How to Handle Unsolicited Parenting Advice
Posted 5/16/2016 by UHBlog
Everyone thinks he or she is an expert on raising children – especially when it comes to nurturing your offspring. While it’s easy to shrug off a stranger criticizing how you handle your toddler’s meltdown in the checkout lane, it’s often difficult to dismiss “suggestions” from friends or loved ones.
Sometimes you shouldn’t.
“Think of it as unsolicited advice, rather than unwanted advice,” says clinical psychologist Carolyn Ievers-Landis, PhD. “How do you know it’s unwanted unless you listen to it and consider it?”
Still, accepting criticism – even loving, constructive criticism – isn’t easy, especially when parents are already plagued with self-doubt about parenting choices, she acknowledges.
“If somebody suggests something different than what you’re doing, you might feel defensive, especially if you’re going through a challenge with your child and somebody says something critical about how you’re handling it,” she says.
Unsolicited parenting advice is a lot like dirty diapers, sibling squabbles and broken hearts – it simply comes with the territory. Here are Dr. Ievers-Landis’s suggestions for sifting the good advice from the bad without losing your cool:
- Keep an open mind – At first blush, Aunt Gertrude’s unrelenting badgering to feed your daughter peas, corn and chicken at every meal until she’s 10 may seem absurd.
“This person probably loves your child and loves you,” Dr. Ievers-Landis says. “Maybe you can pick a little piece of what they say and agree to try it.”
Dietitians say toddlers need to be introduced to a new food up to 15 times before they develop a taste for it, so consider assuring Aunt Gertrude you’ll offer the little one peas every night at dinner for the next two weeks. You’re validating her concerns, but only making a temporary commitment.
- Don’t be defensive – If someone is giving you a hard time about a parenting choice you’re comfortable with or a doctor has recommended, focus on what you believe is right for your family.
“The onus is not on you to prove what you’re doing is empirically valid,” Dr. Ievers-Landis says.
- Respond empathetically – Validate concerns without agreeing to change your approach on the spot.
“Repeat what the person has said, such as, ‘So you’re saying you think I should let my baby cry it out. Thank you for giving me that feedback. I’ll think about it,'” she says.
- Respect in-laws – Some aspects of child-rearing have changed in the last generation, so don’t flip out if the grandparents can’t understand why you won’t place bumpers on the side of the crib. Remember their perceived meddling comes from a place of love.
“Think about what it would be like for your baby to have a baby,” Dr. Ievers-Landis says. “Would it be easy to sit by and not say something you’re concerned about with your grandchild?”
As with other unsolicited advice, listen with an open mind, thank them for their concern and discuss your options with the other parent to decide what works best for your family.
If your in-laws’ counsel becomes intrusive, their son or daughter should talk to them calmly.
“Say, ‘Please, we respect your viewpoint, but we’re choosing to do something else,’” she says. “’This is stressing my (spouse) and me, so let’s not talk about this as much.’”
If the interference continues, it may be necessary to distance yourself for a while. This should be a last resort, Dr. Ievers-Landis emphasizes.
- Seek out like-minded parents – When you’re going through a rough time with your child, talk to family members and friends who share your values, morals and philosophies. They can validate your choices.
- But don’t tune out critics – “If you’re hearing the same thing from multiple people, it may be time to rethink what you’re doing or talk to an expert,” Dr. Ievers-Landis says. “They may be totally right and you might be veering down a road that may be harmful.”
Carolyn Ievers-Landis, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Ievers-Landis or any other University Hospitals doctor online.