The sandwich theory encapsulates the idea of how to advice others (children, spouse, etc.) with the goal of minimizing resistance. Human beings naturally resist being told that they’re doing something wrong and need to change.

The sandwich theory is simple: a sandwich consists of a nice, soft bun, followed by meat, followed by another soft bun. The heart of the sandwich (or burger) is really the meat.

How do you implement this?

  • When you give advice, start with something nice, soft, gentle, and positive.
  • Follow up with the beef — the main issue or concern.
  • Conclude, again, with something positive.

Other points to keep in mind:

  • Never phrase it as a problem, merely a concern.
  • Always provide the solution. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
  • Always differentiate person from behaviour (see: the elephant theory). Don’t make it their identity.

For example, imagine your son took a toy or candy without permission. Your conversation could be structured like this:

  • “Son, you know I love you, and I know you love candy …” (bun)
  • “I’m concerned that you took a candy without permission.” (meat: issue)
  • “Please ask before you take it, and I will give it to you” (meat: solution)
  • “I have full belief in you, that you will do the right thing next time” (bun)

Some key phrases shaykh Alaa suggested using:

  • “What I suggest is …”
  • “Here’s how I can help you do this: …”
  • “I’m here to help you, we’re on one team, …” meaning “I am not pointing the finger at you or speaking from a high horse”
  • “And I have full belief in you, that you will do the right thing.”

And Allah knows best.

Source: AlKauthar Institute: Parenting Matters. Taught by Shaykh Alaa Elsayed. University of Toronto, Toronto, November 2014.