Does Parenting Advice Help or Hurt?

This parenting piece popped up recently: 10 Things You Should Never Say To Your Kids. And naturally, I clicked.

I was curious to see if I had or hadn’t applied the latest advice in my own mothering style over the years, and I was prepared to be annoyed.

I was.

But I was much less annoyed than I anticipated, with a common sense approach that serves as a reminder to always choose our words carefully.

I admit that I’m leery of those who tout the latest Great Thing on any subject, and even more so when it comes to children. I am also disinclined to accept parenting advice from non-parents, with a few notable exceptions.

In fact, we seem increasingly embattled these days when it comes to parenting camps.

Should we mother “Parisian-style” or Attachment-style? Shouldn’t we breastfeed no matter what, but how long is too long to do so? It’s as though parenting itself has become a competitive sport, which leaves me uncertain if parenting advice helps or hurts.

Parents: Use Your Words!

As for the list of parenting tips, it offers phrases not to use with our kids. Much is reasonable, underlying the principle of “Parents – Use your words!”

Here’s a quick summary of a few of my favorites must-nots, and why I find these particularly important.


Here goes. And remember – don’t say the following:

Try, try again

  • To be told to try harder is frustrating, ignores your child’s effort, dismisses his or her skill level, and offers no tangible suggestion to make a difference. Better to be specific with an age-appropriate recommendation, or to ask an open-ended question. For example: What could make this task work better? What can I do to help? The idea is to encourage discussion and finding a solution.

You’re such a great eater! / You’re such a picky eater!

  • These seemingly innocent comments that categorize a child’s eating behaviors can lead to a negative body issue which we know is a huge problem. We are a society that is fixated on what we eat and don’t eat; again, it’s better to offer specific feedback without any judgment, for example “I’m glad you tried the beets, even if you didn’t like them this time.”

I told you so!

  • This accomplishes nothing! It’s a knee-jerk response to a frustrating situation that is at least as frustrating to your child, or it’s an attempt to take credit where the credit is due to your child. In the first case, I’d recommend you take a breath, walk away if you must, and come back when you’re calm. (Especially important with adolescents who can talk circles around us or simply storm off.)
  • Address the specific consequences, framed in a fashion to change behavior if it yields a negative outcome, or to praise it if it results in a good one. For example “Studying for the math exam really served you well,” or “How can we look at your schedule together, and find a way for you to get the study time in that you need?”

More Tips on Talking to Kids

The remaining things not to say (in the article) take a similar approach. Be specific, consider a question, don’t take the responsibility (good or bad) where it isn’t yours. Do try to position your remarks in a positive fashion.

Now here’s what I don’t care for when it comes to this sort of advice. There is an assumption that we are all skilled with words, and able to think before we speak.

Poor assumption. Communication comes more naturally to some of us than others, and I’m weary of all the “shoulds” that American mothers feel they must take on.

I have put a lot of these “positive framing and open-ended” approaches into practice over the years, but it took me years, and I didn’t always succeed. I use these same tactics in any relationship – personal or professional – because chiding, nagging, and judging rarely build bridges, or sustain them.

Good (Relationship) Communication Skills

The underlying basics in these talk tips deal with communication skills that are honed over a lifetime.

We’re only human. Kids – like spouses, partners, parents, siblings, exes – will push our buttons, and we may snap, slip, or snarl.

If you aren’t a polished talker, there’s nothing wrong with the tried-and-true practice of counting to ten when you’re mad, and it’s always advisable to think before you speak. But if you do say something you wish you could take back?

Apologize and mean it. Explain (specifically) why you’re saying you’re sorry, and remember this incident for the next time so you don’t repeat it.

  • Do you take parenting advice?
  • Are you tired of the Mommy “Style” Wars?
  • Do you take your cues from your kids?
  • Do you exercise the same sort of approach in your adult relationships?


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  1. says

    Hi, I’m trying to address you by the name but it’s only an official D.A.Wolf.
    Ok, dear D.A.Wolf, you summarizes the article brilliantly. You struck the nerve.
    I do take parenting advice but reluctantly and from very few close friends who’s children passed the age of my boys 20 and 11.
    I’m open to implement ideas from trustworthy books and articles though they rarely worked.
    With first son, bright and talented writer, president of Debate Club in high school, but always egocentric kid, never worked anything. I tried to be the best mother I knew to be and could. He left the nest at 17 (which is natural) and burnt all the bridges (which was utterly unexpected). Of course it’s unimaginably hurtful.
    The typical mistake hard to avoid to make a child the center of the universe no matter how much you love him.

    The main problem is that you learn on the way, you can’t rehears parenting, the show goes live, though some lessons learnt and some editing applied.
    The second son is the opposite in everything. The parenting approach is different in many ways. He is responsive (so far) to my attempts to follow wise advices.
    Yes, I’m taking more cues from him, more flexible, forgiving, patient, less pushy.
    And yes I exercise the same sort of approach in adult relationships. Helpful… sometimes…

    The funniest thing was to talk to child psychologist who had lots of suggestions from the books and hadn’t have kids of her own. Useless totally.

    Sorry for the long comment and thank you very much for very relevant article.

  2. says

    Your comment makes me smile. You raise the issue of taking advice from close friends who have the experience you trust (and they no doubt know you and your boys as well, which helps).

    You mention your older son who left the nest at 17 – all the more reason that those who “blame the parents” and make assumptions should keep their opinions to themselves (in my opinion). Sometimes, our kids have to take their own path – it doesn’t mean we did anything “wrong;” we did everything we knew to do, and they still have to find their way.

    And maybe, most of the time, that’s exactly how it should be.

    Delighted you joined the conversation!

  3. says

    Hear, hear to the drop the guilt comment. Parenting is a day to day, year by year challenge and joy and heartache laced with prayers for wisdom along the way. And every child is unique. I just take pieces from here and there; books, friends, my own parents, and do what feels right for each of my kids. They’re out of the home now, and the parenting goes on. Now it’s learning to step back and bite my tongue. To let them evolve into who they are. A parent is always a part of who we are once we have the little critters; the dynamics just change.

  4. ladytee says

    As a new mom, I must say yes I’m past tired of all the advice and mom wars. Cloth vs regular, breast vs formula, solids vs purees, cosleeping, etc. it’s overwhelming and silly. at the end of the day we are doing the best we.can. I take advice from those I see around me that get the results I want with similar circumstances. I may tweak it a little.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Hi Ladytee. Delighted you joined the conversation. Taking advice from those who are doing what seems to work – and tweaking it? That sounds ideal!

  5. says

    I can’t help it, I see pieces like this and it instantly produces the Charlie Brown Adult Speak Effect– wah wah wah wah, wah wah wah. I really don’t believe in parenting advice. I just believe life screws kids up and what we say or don’t say as parents really doesn’t matter as much as we’d like to think it does especially in a society where there is very little actual parenting time.
    As kids we can have this larger in life view of our parents and maybe that carries on into our views of ourselves as we become parents, but I just don’t buy it. My parents said pretty much every single thing on that list many, many, many times. Am I screwed up? Yeah but not more or less than the average person and most of the stuff that really messed me up had nothing to do with my parents.
    I think the most important thing parents can do is really and truly love their kids. And if you do the things you do out of true love for your kids, you’re pretty much doing the right thing even if it’s on one of these silly lists. And besides, these types of lists and articles are just pure fodder for more of the mommy wars which I am BEYOND sick of. I can just hear the self-satisfied moms as they tick off the list and pride themselves on having made such few mistakes or I can hear the guilt-ridden moms as they scan the lists and remember every single little time they slipped up and said something that is on the list. I don’t like anything that gets that kind of stuff going.

  6. says

    Ah, Supermodel. Yes, enough with the Mommy Wars! (May all our flags of peace be waving… )

    I love this, that you said: I think the most important thing parents can do is really and truly love their kids. And if you do the things you do out of true love for your kids, you’re pretty much doing the right thing even if it’s on one of these silly lists.


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