Giving advice can be a dangerous undertaking, but some people don’t seem to know when to stop. We’ve all had the experience of receiving unsolicited, judgmental, or hurtful advice, from suggestions about dealing with a child differently to offers of help with dieting. This advice can feel invasive and can distract from real, meaningful conversation. While people giving advice generally have good intentions and you should attempt to recognize that they are only trying to help, advice that attacks your appearance, your relationship, or your parenting skills is almost always inappropriate. Here’s how to react to the uncomfortable situation of receiving unsolicited advice:
Some advice is so rude it leaves us completely tongue tied. When someone tells you you need to lose weight or attacks your parenting by telling you you’re spoiling your child by picking her up when she cries, a good way to deflect is to respond with two simple words, “how interesting”. This causes the advice giver to have to pause and think about whether their advice is really useful and makes it clear that you don’t want to discuss the topic any further.
Correct the Advice
As a general rule, it’s a bad idea to get into an argument or power struggle with an advice giver, particularly if the person is a stranger or someone you only see rarely. But having an informative, one sentence response to people who you see frequently can help them better understand the way you do things. A family member who criticizes your breastfeeding habits with your child, however, might benefit from hearing, “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of one year, so I’m following the advice of my doctor.” A close friend who suggests you eat a less fattening food might benefit from hearing, “Actually, I’m not on a diet because I’ve read studies saying diets are dangerous.” Be as friendly and kind with your response, but make it clear that the topic is not up for further debate.
Deflect With a Joke
If you don’t want to argue with an advice giver but do want to quickly get out of the situation, deflecting with a joke can be a great strategy. A stranger who says your baby needs to be wearing a hat could be responded to with, “Well, last week I bundled him up so much that I was worried he couldn’t breathe, so it’s trial and error here.”
Sometimes the best way to respond to unwanted advice is to be honest about how it makes you feel. Family members who imply that you need to lose weight or get married should hear, “That really hurts my feelings” or, “Your advice is upsetting.” Most people will back off at this point.
Change the Subject
Friends and family who give unwanted advice often are genuinely interested in helping. A good response is, “You know, I’ve been meaning to ask you for advice on…” and then change the subject to a less sensitive topic with which you are comfortable receiving advice.
Explain How Advice Can Harm Children
People who give parents advice are generally well-meaning, and may not even realize they’re giving advice or correcting you. When someone tells you not to do something in front of your children, however, it can undermine parental authority. The next time your mother in law says, “If you spanked him, he’d behave better”, you can respond with, “I really appreciate your advice, but I’ve read consistency is one of the most important tasks of parenting. I worry that when you tell me not to do something in front of my kid, it undermines me.”
Unsolicited advice can be frustrating and is especially common for parents. The best response in most cases is to smile and change the subject, while reminding yourself that the other person is trying to help. When unsolicited advice becomes hurtful or constant, however, you have a right to respond!