Saturday, October 18, 2014

Advice for the Advice Givers

I recently asked parents to tell me some of the worst advice they had ever gotten. There were some pretty ridiculous things suggested. I thought the prize for the absolute worst advice should go to the mother who wrote that she had been told to put whisky in her child’s bottle to calm him.

Have you ever been one of these well meaning counselors and offered unsolicited advice? Maybe not with advice as outlandish as putting alcohol into a baby’s bottle but have you ever offered someone advice that they did not ask you for? What motivated you? When you did it, did you have all the facts? Did you know the child? Did you know the parents? Were you really qualified to give advice at all? I’m guilty. I’ve done it. I try not to do it and have gotten much better at the realization that unsolicited advice is unwanted advice.

Here are a few more thoughts to ponder… What makes a person believe they are an authority on child rearing? Do they have seven kids or something? (A little joke there.) Did they get a manual that the rest of us missed out on? Did they take a bunch of classes on parenting? And who were their teachers? Were the teachers qualified?

I had a great example in my own parents. But, I learned what worked with my own kids, “on the job.” I know my own kids. I don’t know your kids. It is my responsibility to do what is best for my kids and it is your responsibility to do what’s best for yours. It is not my responsibility to convince you to do things my way nor is it your responsibility to convert the rest of us parents to doing things the way you prefer. Does it really matter if your kid has a pacifier 'til he is four and mine gave his up at age two? Really?  

It blows my mind when someone without children offers parental advice. I also find it hard to bite my tongue when a young parent with one child or even a couple, suddenly becomes an authority on child rearing and tells me what I should try. Believe me, I've probably already tried it! The things these parents are doing for their own kid(s) are successful so they decide they will do me a favor and pass on their secrets. Here’s the thing about that.... Believe it or not, there is not a “one size fits all” policy for much of anything. Here’s an example: One of the most common tips I have heard over the years goes something like, “Put the food on the table. If the kid is hungry enough he will eventually eat.” I say, “Yeah. That would have worked for two of my kids easily, and maybe a couple of them after a while, but for some kids it will not work. Two of mine would have lost an awful lot of weight while I tried to teach them this lesson.” Have you ever told your kid they were trying peas or else? I have. I have also had to clean up the vomit that landed all over the dinner table immediately following the pea tasting. What did that accomplish? It gave that child a long-lasting phobia about trying new things, made us both feel terrible, and it ruined a meal for the whole family. Have you ever forced a green bean into a kid’s mouth and watched it come back out his nose? What did that accomplish? You get the picture. And, by the way, those were not children with disabilities.
Tate and his duck Boris

But, if you want to hear about children with disabilities… Have you ever watched a kid go 3 days without eating because you couldn’t find anything he would eat? Yeah. Three days. Autism stinks.

Sydney will eat "anything"
So, since this is my blog, I’m going to give some advice here. It is advice for the advice givers: Stop telling people that kids will eat what you give them if you stop catering to their whims! Your kid(s) are not necessarily the rule and my kids are not necessarily the exception. All kids are different. One rule does not fit for every kid. One rule does not even apply for all kids with autism. A lot of kids with autism have a very limited diet, but not all do. I have known people with autism who eat almost anything. I have known a child with autism who would eat one thing, mustard flavored pretzels. I had a boy without autism who lived on waffles and not much else for his toddler years. He was the one who had a green bean come out his nose once. His pediatrician was fully aware that he only ate waffles, and was not worried. Guess what? He turned out fine. 

Tate, aged 2 ½ 

When I asked other parents about unsolicited advice they had gotten, many of the responses were about discipline. Some parents were advised to spank more. Some were told to stop spanking. Some were told they were too lenient while other had been told they needed to loosen up. Here again, my seven children required different amounts of correction and different kinds of discipline. One child needed a frown from me; a frown would stop him in his tracks. I am not going to debate spanking in this blog post or in the comments after from my readers. I will only say that a spanking is not equal to abuse and I respect a parent’s right to choose whether to spank or not. It is no one’s business except the parent involved. One of the comments I liked the most when I was seeking input for this blog post was from a mother of a child with autism who stuck to the child’s behavior plan. A behavior plan outlines the expected behavior and the consequences of breaking the rules. From the folks on the sidelines, the mother kept hearing, "Can't you give that kid a break?!" She says that she now has an “incredibly mature, responsible, social, caring, calm, young man” and people now understand, “a break was NOT what he needed at all. He needed the consistency we provided.” She goes on to point out, “NOW he can have a break!!” Kudos to this mother for staying the course, despite those who would have steered her in the wrong direction.

Some of the most recent balderdash I have gotten was from a random reader of my blog. She told me that the ABA therapy I had provided my son when he was young was torturous. She knew this because her little girl was in preschool with a boy who has autism and she had seen his therapy. I kid you not. Of course I immediately began to campaign against ABA therapy based on her vast research and knowledge of the subject. (Like all the sarcasm inserted here?)

What is a parent to do about all the conflicting, unwanted, unneeded comments and advice? I will tell you what I do. I have learned to smile, act interested, and then disregard the counsel given by all these generous folk. Most of us have people we can turn to for advice. If we need it we know whom we want to ask. But if you find you still feel the need to give advice, start a blog. People can read if they want and leave at any time they don’t. If you made it this far then you didn't take off, thank you for reading. Leave me a comment and tell me some of the "best" advice you've ever gotten. I want to see if anyone can beat the "whiskey in the baby bottle" thing.

You might like to read this post: Encouragers are needed. Be one. 

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  1. Great article :) yet again. Your stuff never fail to make me smile.

  2. I was given some unwanted advice after a particularly bad break up. Advice such as (paraphrasing here): "you're taking too long to get over it"; "you have the wrong view on your relationship"; "you're also to blame."
    Unsolicited advice is not only unwanted but can be hurtful and insensitive.

    1. Yes. It is often hurtful and insensitive. It is so often people who are unqualified to be giving advice that offer it.