Helpful advice, or criticism?


Have you ever been in a situation where you clearly see the error of someone in the family’s ways and a much simpler way to do something? It may be homework, getting ready for school, how to deal with an issue with a teacher or friend, or a whole litany of other possibilities; you think you are being really helpful and offering advice, but the person on the receiving end of your ‘amazing advice’ thinks you are criticising them?


Parents can see their children as projects, what they see can remind them of what they did as children and what they wished they hadn’t done because it was a complication they could do without. In order to give their child an easier life they want to impart their wisdom so the child doesn’t need to go through what they went through. Yet their child is throwing their wisdom back in their face and continuing on a road that is clearly not embracing the ‘gifts’ and opportunities they perceive them to have been given. Opportunities that they perhaps don’t feel they had themselves. When your child throws your ‘amazing advice’ (aka parent wisdom) back at you, telling you that you are criticising them, you may double down and consider your comments as simply that, a comment or advice, but let’s be honest with ourselves here, how irritating is it when we offer advice a number of times and each time it is not listened to? The next time we are asked, there could be an understandable, and to us justifiable, reason to slip into sarcasm and even some passive aggressiveness to assuage our irritation. From past experience, when I have been called out on my own passive aggressiveness I have been surprised and blamed them right back for not seeing how incredibly helpful I have been at pointing out their lack of commitment to taking my ‘amazing advice’. There is genuine surprise that they have re-interpreted what my intention was.


The trouble is, we are often not aware of criticism

when it comes out of our mouths or is communicated through our movements. 


We can set an expectation for another based on a picture we have been fed of how we should be, and when they don’t live up to that expectation, we communicate disappointment or disapproval either verbally or non-verbally and from that moment what we communicate is heard as criticism. This can start when the children are very young and become a well-worn groove in our way of communicating so we don’t notice it anymore, but our children notice it very clearly. They feel a disappointment from us as to how they ‘turned out’, and that cuts much deeper than any anger we can place on them.


So, where does the expectation come from that enables the criticism? 


Is it possible that we are setting expectations for ourselves and criticising ourselves for what we are not measuring up to and therefore, it is quite natural to set the same expectations for others and therefore when they don’t measure up to those standards we find ourselves criticising them consciously or unconsciously in just the same way (perhaps slightly less) than ourselves? If any of this rings true, then be kind to yourself, don’t use this as yet another stick to beat yourself up with. This is an opportunity to be more aware of how you communicate, how you listen, how you hear, how you reply – as in respond or react. By bringing more awareness we can become aware of the underlying judgements and in becoming more aware of the expectations that feed those judgements we can then address the pictures that feed those expectations and re-assess if they are ready to be let go of.


If you enjoyed this article you may also enjoy What do our children see?, Looking for what's wrong, or Writing Magic (audio)

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Have you ever found the 'rule book' doesn't fit your child or family. So did we. So we decided to make a website that offered practical skills to build a way of living that could be responsive to whatever might present itself in family life.

That way rather than needing a 'rule book' there is a sense of being equipped to deal with whatever situation is in front of you.

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