December 3, 2014

When Good Advice Isn't a Good Idea

Imagine this scenario -- A child is working on a craft project, covering a plain notebook with pieces of attractive pictures she has printed. She puts glue in the middle of each scrap but neglects the corners. As a result, the pieces lift up at the edges. Before waiting to see if the child notices, the parent points out the problem and suggests a solution. This seems logical and helpful; the decorated notebook will certainly look better if the advice is taken. But, if we focus on the logic and reasonableness of the suggestion and on the quality of the craft project, we are missing something much more important. We are missing the unintended message sent by this useful advice.

The insightful young lady in this scenario described the following to her parent: "When you give me help and advice when I don't ask for it, I feel like you don't think I can figure it out myself." Unintentionally, the parent has given the child a message -- not about the craft project -- but about the child's competence and ability to problem solve independently.

Given that children and teens can feel vulnerable to self-doubt at any age, this message is powerful. Whether the child is entering kindergarten or leaving for college, a clear vote of confidence from the parent is invaluable. It is certainly not worth sacrificing for the sake of neater edges.