Advice to Dads …Don’t Give Any!

dad, fathers, fatherly advice, parent advice, father child bondBy Patrick Mitchell of and Down to Earth Dads

…So you’re saying that, at age 16, you feel you should be able to just drive five hours to

Seattle with your friends for the weekend, you don’t know who’s driving, and you have no idea

where you intend to stay when you get there, and you only have $40.00?  My advice is that this is

a bad idea.  What?  You don’t want my advice?  Well, tough beans.   What makes you think

you’re old enough to go on a trip to Seattle anyway? Here’s what you need to do instead of

going to Seattle…. What?!  Well, I suggest that you DO listen to me, because I know what I’m

talking about….”

Got a teenager at home?  Is it challenging to impart your wisdom in a way that gets

through to your child?  Perhaps the last thing they want from you is advice.  Instead, try listening

and give strategic feedback.  Will it work?  Maybe not, but the alternative—rampant advicegiving—is often a dead-end road for parents.

That’s the advice of Mark Goulson, M.D., psychiatrist and the author of Just Listen:

Discover the Secret to getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.  The trained hostage negotiator for the FBI

shares tips for parents to talk to their children.

The Hidden Anger Factor

 

“One of the things that holds dads hostage in dealing with their teenagers is that there

seems to be an almost chilling level of rage inside teenagers sometimes, and neither the child nor

the dad knows where it comes from.  Often, the dad will react in such a way that he walks on egg

shells when approaching his teen, or he decides to be controlling or, if the dad has sort of an

angry streak himself, then he might unwittingly escalate conversations in an angry direction,” Dr.

Goulston told THE DOWN TO EARTH DAD.  “If the dad wins the battle of who is the most

angry, then the teenager will kind of shut down and become prey to his own imagination—which

is not going to take him to a good place.”

“One of the main things that dads need to manage is to not take personally some of the

anger, verbiage, and temperamental attitude that he observes in his teenager.  He needs to not

react personally,” he said.  One of the challenges for dads is to “Learn to manage your own

reactivity.  This means managing your tone.”

Anger Can’t Exist With Empathy

 

“One of the things that I’ve discovered is that you can’t be both empathic and angry at

the same time.  Empathy means putting yourself into someone else’s shoes and feeling what they

feel.  Anger is a motor (physical) function.   I like to say, ‘You can’t walk in someone’s shoes

and step on their toes at the same time.’  Tone appears to be 80 or 90 percent of how

communication is perceived.  So, if you take what they say personally and react with the same

(angry) tone, then the conversation might go negative,” he cautions. Dr. Goulston offered what he called an extreme example of the effect of long-simmering

unresolved anger associated with father-child conversations gone awry:  “A dad in his 50s and

his son in his late 20s came to me, and during the session the son said, ‘My dad has really been

cold to me for 10 years.  My mother would say to me, ‘that’s just the way your father is; that’s

his way, he’s busy.’   The dad said to the son during the session, ‘You know, 10 years ago, we

had a confrontation and you told me, ‘Get out of my life!’   And so the father said to the son

during the session, ‘I was waiting to be welcomed back.  I’ve been waiting to be invited back.  I

was waiting for the coast to be clear.’  The son said, crying, ‘I don’t even remember saying that

or when I said it.’”

So the stakes are high, when parents talk with their kids.  Good listening can remove

much of the conflict.  Dr. Goulston offers these tips:  1) Listen without giving advice, and 2) give

them an opportunity to go from venting to exhaling.

“Generally speaking, your teen doesn’t want your unsolicited advice or solutions—and

neither does your spouse.   As a dad or husband, when you show caring by providing advice and

solutions, and you’re not being welcomed with opened arms, then they (your child or spouse) is

not getting what they want and need.  What they need is to be able to vent without you taking it

personally or giving them advice they don’t want,” he said.  “And then, they need to cross over

from venting to exhaling:  Think of a movie where a husband and wife are talking, and they’re

angry, and then there’s a breakthrough moment where you see one or the other exhale and they

make up,” he said.  “What your children want and need is to just be listened to, and to be able to

go from venting to exhaling.”

Strategic Communication Steps

 

(For When Things Start to Boil Over)

“Say firmly, not angrily, ‘What you’re saying is much too important for me to get

frustrated or ticked off about, so tell me exactly what happened.’  A lot of times people vent

because they feel unimportant.  Also, if they are given the chance to experience the details of the

event, their emotions about the event will diminish somewhat.  You might say, ‘Tell me more

about that,’ and they might tell you, ‘Well you never do this or that… and you might then say,

‘Tell me more about ‘never.’  Or they might say, ‘You always do this or that… and you might

say, ‘Tell me more about ‘always.’

After this, they may point their finger at you.  Let them express all of that frustration.

Next, shift from ‘reacting’—which you’ll probably feel like doing—and become tender instead.

You might say, ‘Hey, what’s really going on?’  Their hands will go palms up, and they’ll say, ‘I

don’t know what to do.’”

“Next, use feeling words.  You paraphrase them, and you might say, with feeling words,

‘…and because of that you’re frustrated, hurt, or feeling that I don’t value you.’  You summarize

how they feel.  By the way, when you get someone to attach the correct word to an emotion it

lowers the emotional reactivity in the brain.  You might ask them, ‘Is it anger that you’re

feeling?’ or, ‘Are you pissed off?’   They will further calm down and be more receptive to a

connection with you,” Dr. Goulston explained. Getting Ahead of the Curve

A great way to lay a foundation for good communication is to talk with your child when

there are no problems.  Dr. Goulston suggests key strategies to do this.

Don’t Give Advice (Ask Questions Instead)

“Take advantage of an activity together, such as when you’re driving somewhere together and

you’re both looking at the horizon and not directly at each other.  Don’t tell your kids what to do;

instead, nurture judgment in them—how to make decisions when you’re not around.  The more

you have confidence in their decision making and judgment, the less controlling you will be as a

parent,” he said.  “You might say, ‘How could you tell which of your friends are going to go over

the deep end this year, and why?’ or, ‘ Is there someone you know who will excel?  Who would

that be, and why would you say that?’ or, ‘Let me ask you, regarding your classes, which class is

one that you could get away with not doing anything for until the last minute?’ and, ‘Which

class, if you fall behind, would cause you problems, and why?’  and then in response to their

answer, say, ‘that’s fascinating,’ or words to that effect.”

Learn to Recognize When You Are ‘Reacting’

 

To diffuse your own responses during potentially heated moments, parents need to “recognize

when you are reacting.  Reacting is not productive.  Say to yourself, ‘Stop reacting.”  Ask

yourself the question, ‘What’s it like for the other person right now?’  Because you can’t be

angry if you’re being empathetic.  Inside people who love each other is a desire to not hate each

other,” he said.

Dr. Goulston writes a column on leadership for Fast Company as well as a syndicated column, “Solve Anything with Dr. Mark,”

for Tribune Media Services and blogs for: the Huffington Post, Daily Speculations, Basil and Spice.  Frequently called upon to

share his expertise with the media, he has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Newsweek,

Time, and Reuters; has offered commentary on NPR, CNN, and Fox News; and has appeared on the Oprah and Today shows.  He

lives in Los Angeles, California.

“Generally speaking, your teen

doesn’t want your unsolicited

advice or solutions.”

—Mark Goulston, M.D., Psychiatrist and Author of Just Listen: Discover

the Secret to getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.

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