Parents are often ineffective in giving their child advice. If you listen carefully then you would hear berating, nagging and blaming included in their advice-giving.
To be effective in giving our children advice we need to look at how the Prophet, peace be upon him, gave advice. There are many examples as the Companions would often go to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and ask his advice on many things.
On the authority of Sufyan bin Abdullah, may Allah be pleased with him, who said: "I said, 'O Messenger of Allah, tell me something about Islam which I can ask of no one but you.' He, peace be upon him, said, 'Say "I believe in Allah" — and then be steadfast.'" [Related by Muslim]
When we look at the Prophet’s advice, whether to children or adults alike, they were simple, straight to the point, gave instructions to do something (sometimes not to do something) and easy to understand.
1. Keep it short and to the point
On the authority of Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him: “A man said to the Prophet, ‘Give me advice.’ The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘Do not get angry.’ The man asked repeatedly and the Prophet answered each time, ‘Do not get angry.’” [Related by Bukhari & Muslim]
Like the first hadeeth, this advice was simple: “Do not get angry”. The first was “Say I believe in Allah and then be steadfast”. They were both clear. They were simple. They were straight to the point. There was no ambiguity or room for confusion.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, did not embellish his advice with negative communication. There were no criticisms, put-downs, threats, sarcasm or lecturing. How often do we give advice by saying, “If you know what’s good for you then you must do this or else you will get nowhere in life.”? This is a threat. Or have you heard yourself or others saying to children, “You can’t do anything right. That’s not how to do it. This is how you should do it.” This is a criticism and put down. You get the idea so there’s no need to go into sarcasm and lecturing. We hear them often enough in our own or other parent’s speech.
2. Begin with a verb
Abu al-‘Abbas ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, reports: “One day I was riding (a horse/camel) behind the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, when he said, ‘Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of Allah, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask of Allah. If you need help, seek it from Allah. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if Allah had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if Allah had written so. The pens have been lifted, and the pages are dry.’” [Related by Tirmidhi]
What do you notice from the above hadeeth and the two previous ones? The advice comes in the form of instructions. “Do this…” or “Don’t do this…” Instructions usually start with verbs such as say, be, ask and seek.
A variation of simple saying “Do this” is adding the benefit: “Do this…then you will get this…(benefit)..” or the reverse: “If you want/need this...(benefit)…then do this..” You can see the example from the above hadeeth but here are some more: “Share your toys then you will have friends” or “If you want to be liked then be trustworthy.”
3. Break it down to simple steps
Omar Ibn Aby Salamah narrated, “I was a little boy sitting on the Prophet’s lap and my hand is all over the plate, then the Messenger of Allah said to me: “O boy, say ‘Bismillah’ (In the name of Allah), eat with your right hand and eat from what’s in front of you.” [Related by Tirmidhi, Agreed upon]
When the Prophet, peace be upon him, saw someone doing something wrong then he gave instructions on how to do it right. He broke it down to simple steps and used the instruction formula which is to start with a verb and say: “Do this…
This point relates to both point number one and two, that is, the Prophet, peace be upon him, made the instructions short and simple and started them with verbs (say and eat). Again, there was no need for embellishments.
If you want to put this advice-giving into practice according to how the Prophet, peace be upon him, did it then join me in the 13 Days Qualities of a Muslim Parent Challenge where we practice this on Days 11 and 12. We go into this in more details then. Click to read about what others had to say about the workshop.