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Sometimes The Best Thing A Parent Can Say Is Nothing

Parents tell. It’s what we do. We have been on the planet longer than our kids so we think we know what they need and how they need it. Over-parenting – our parents did this. Their parents did this. It’s easy to see why it still happens.

And I’ll agree that there are times when telling is important. These include keeping our kids safe, developing a sense of right/wrong and values, and giving them some grounding in beliefs. We are their first line of defense, solution and encouragement – at least when they are young.

But as they grow I am more of an advocate of the mantra: stop telling, start asking. Asking engages our kids – it gets them involved in thinking about their perspectives, ideas, thoughts and values. It helps them become aware of what abilities they have – the tools they will rely on to make it through life.

Telling and over-parenting limit your kids

A critique of many educators is that parents tell and do too much for their kids. Over-parenting creates kids who are unable to solve, assess and think for themselves – their “superparents” swoop in to help them with homework, activities, decisions and most other things. We don’t do our kids any favors by trying to eliminate all the strife and challenge from their lives. We do a better service by training them how to solve what the world sends them – to tap into their abilities, use their brain and figure things out.

Sometimes our kids need us to say nothing

I think there is one more level of improved parenting. What if the best thing we could say as parents were nothing – to let our kids sort through the information all by themselves instead of with our continual guidance, commentary and input? Great that we move from telling to asking, but what if sometimes we just stopped all the talk to give them the attentive space, encouraging them with our presence and supportive body language, to let them work on their challenges on their own to develop resilience and awareness of their own success abilities.

See, many times our kids just need uninterrupted time to sort through their ideas – to listen to their own voice – to keep working uninterrupted in order to get it on their own. As parents, we seem either be uncomfortable watching them struggle or are not good with the quiet and we jump in to help them. Too much helping can make a problem for them in the future – they don’t learn how to stick with something, figure it out and rely on themselves. They can always request help, the way we can always say, “Give it another couple of minutes and see what you come up with.”

Sometimes being a great parent is letting them work through things and remaining quiet. We don’t have all the answers – or their answers. When we create the space for them to solve things on their own, they quickly learn that they are capable and do not need to default to parental aid. They don’t see this as an option if we always are guiding, commenting or telling them what to do.

What a gift we give our kids when we learn how to shift from telling to asking, and from asking to staying quiet – to allow them as they grow to handle the things in their lives. Sure, it takes time to decide which response is right. But I have learned that whatever your default behavior (most likely it is to tell), try to ask and try to just stay quiet. Notice it. Try it. See what happens. You will see your kids discover their talents and use them to build their confidence. This is what it takes to get them ready for life.

About Jay Forte

Jay Forte is a family, teen, career and mindfulness coach, author, motivational speaker and nationally ranked Thought Leader. He helps parents learn how to guide, support and coach their kids to discover, develop and live who they really are - to help them be ready for life.

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  1. Oh man, tell me about it! I am the father of a 6 and a 9 year old and especially my 9 year old tends not to listen to me. I don’t believe I am over-parenting, but at the same time I think I need to give him some more space and speak with the example instead of words.

    • I understand your situation, and they are not even teenagers. Parenting is a difficult task and there is no how-to guide. Kids need to be disciplined but at the same time parents need to give them space to make mistakes, but at the same time keeping a close eye on them.

  2. I think that this is common problem that parents everywhere have, and it is something that will not go away anytime soon, and in fact with all the dangers out there will probably get only more confusing and more blurred. We want to let our children learn for themselves, because that is the best way to learn, but at the same time we want to protect them. Sometimes we have to let them fail, though, which is hard to do.

    • I understand your situation, and they are not even teenagers. Parenting is a difficult task and there is no how-to guide. Kids need to be disciplined but at the same time parents need to give them space to make mistakes, but at the same time keeping a close eye on them.

  3. The main problem that happens to me often is that when I get at home I am exhausted from work and I don’t feel like playing with the kids, but all in all it’s a matter of mentality, we need to focus more on what is important, and what’s more important than our kids?

  4. That’s one of the major things I have a problem with as a parent to a young child. I find it really hard to be quiet and yet I know that I need to empower her to make her own choices sometimes. And with all the dangers lurking everywhere these days, I think that’s only going to get worse.

  5. Being there every time for your kids makes kids highly dependent on you. Kids need some space to learn from their mistakes and grow. This helps their problem solving and coping skills. That is the only way to learn.

  6. The issue is that we must teach by example and this is not always easy. The fact is that kids analyze everything we do and they replicate that behavior. That has a lot more power than anything we might tell them.

  7. Well I think that this is probably something that a lot of parents deal with, and it is certainly nothing new. The truth is is that our kids need to learn for themselves a lot of the times, and while our advice and guidance is welcome and necessary, there are times when you have to just sit back. It is hard to do sometimes, but I know there are times when I can just fix a situation for them. It would be easy and the problem solves, but they would not learn anything, and then really what am I accomplishing. Interesting stuff, and thanks for sharing.

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