Parenting Tips: Setting Rules, Providing Direction, and Giving Advice

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Parenting is difficult. Parents sometimes have a difficult time discerning the difference between setting down rules, providing direction, and giving advice. All three are parental responsibilities and all three are given with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, they are perceived differently by children.

The Difference Between Rules, Direction and Advice


Rules are based upon authority and are usually unidirectional from parent to child. "Wipe off you feet before entering the house" is a rule. It's not open for discussion.


Providing direction is based upon experience and knowledge and again, is usually unidirectional from parent to child. "Lift with your legs, not your back" is providing direction. It's based upon evidence and experience. Giving advice is suggestive from parent to child, in response to a need expressed by the child.


Advice is usually solicited. Over the long term, the manner in which it is offered can determine the level of a child's self-esteem and confidence. When a child seeks advice, he or she is generally looking for discussion and wisdom, not a rule or a directive. Advice is generally not well received if it is not solicited. A wise parent will not offer advice without a clear indication that it is wanted. Every parent has been in the situation where the child is obviously dealing with confusion or pain. It's natural for the parent to ask if there is anything wrong that the child would like to discuss.

Parents don't like to see their children in distress either emotionally or physically. It's natural to want to help; to minimize life's difficulties for them; to solve all of their problems. Unfortunately, when parents are too quick to provide solutions, the child has difficulty in developing a sense of self-reliance, and can remain dependent upon the parent of caregiver well into adulthood. This dependency can be a serious handicap to handling life's vicissitudes, especially when the time comes that the parent of caregiver is no longer available to provide solutions.

A prudent parent will develop the discipline to listen to problems and concerns from their children without putting forth specific ideas for solution. When a child discusses a problem that he or she is having, the parent can discuss similar problems that he may have had in the past. It's important to let the child know that the problem is important and that you have confidence that they will make the right decision.

When you child comes to you for advice, consider the following approach:

  • Listen to what the child has to say. However, offer no commentary other than acknowledgement of your increased understanding of the situation.
  • Express confidence in a solution. When you're asked, "What should I do?" ask the child what he or she thinks should be done. Express confidence that he or she can find a reasonable solution.
  • Offer ideas to your child. If the child persists in soliciting advice, you can offer several ideas, but commit to none, suggesting that the child may have other better ideas.
  • Refrain from judging your child's ideas. Don't lecture and don't judge the child's ideas.

There are times when parental intervention may be necessary simply because the situation is urgent and an immediate solution is critical. In most situations, however, a child's problems can be worked out by the child if the parents have practiced restraint with advice, allowing the child to become self-reliant and dependent upon his or her own intellectual skills to resolve personal problems.

If you have been successful in instilling your child with the habit of independence, you will have, of necessity, become a good listener. This is a quality that will improve your mutual relationship. You child will learn that he can come to you for love and reinforcement and not directives and judgment.

How do you help instill your child with a sense of independence? How do you maintain a good relationship with your kid(s)?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Amy Brown, a stay-at-home mom, is an editor of Livesnet, a site offering baby gear reviews and parenting tips. She's surely willing to share her own experience and tips. Please visit Livesnet and read recent hot articles on Joovy Sit N Stand Stroller and Britax Frontier 85 Reviews.

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