What is one of the best gifts you have every given your children? I recently read an article by Anthony Kane, MD which says that criticism is one of the best gifts we can provide for our children – far above any toy, gadget, or activity. Now I’m not suggesting that you go and slam your children’s attempts and achievements with the thought that it will only make them stronger. However, I do agree with Kane and others who speak of the benefits of teaching children how to handle criticisms without crumbling.
Why is criticism good for kids?
No one is perfect. We all make mistakes – children and adults alike. Criticism teaches children self-control, helps them learn from their mistakes, and teaches them how to do better in the future. These are lifelong lessons we can all use in our lives. Children need us as parents to guide them to make better decisions; it is one of the most important jobs we have as their parents.
Professor Frances Stott of the Erikson Institute, a nationally respected graduate school with a focus on child development, fears that children are losing the important ability to accept criticism and use it to enhance their lives.
Family psychologist Aaron Cooper agrees with Stott and says that if we as parents don’t set limits and boundaries we are failing them. Even though kids (like anyone else) don’t like to hear what amounts to criticisms, these average and typical moments of adversity help build resilience. Cooper even goes on to say that the current generation of 20-somethings are evidence of the failings of child-centered parenting. They are not good team players at work, have less motivation to pay their dues, and tend to stay less in their employment positions because they are consistently waiting for the job that molds to them and their wants instead of constructively working toward a common goal. The child-centered childhood rears itself as an unsatisfied-adulthood.
What is good criticism?
Commonly referred to as constructive criticism, proactively responding to our children and redirecting their behaviors, actions, and efforts requires a balancing act. Cooper, Stott, and Kane all agree that providing criticisms for our children is necessary (although not always pleasant or well-received) and it teaches them how to effectively respond to the criticism of others. The characteristics of constructive criticism include:
Focusing on the behavior or action reiterates to your children that you find them fantastic, but maybe a specific action needs some adjusting.
Respect the feelings of your child
Respecting the feelings of your children is reflected with the first step of focusing on the behavior as needing changing – not your child. It is also important to speak with kind words and criticize things that have a realistic likelihood of being able to change. If your child is consistently leaving a mess in the living room it is important to focus on the mess (which can be changed).
Offering criticism in private – no one likes to be called out in a group setting and it only adds to the negative feelings. Avoiding labels – stay away from lazy, boring, clumsy, etc. as these are not constructive. Letting go of past behaviors – no one wants to hear how they always make those same mistakes – move forward with constructive ideas
Deliver a clear message
Delivering a clear message is paramount to children understanding how they can make improvements. Simply telling them they aren’t doing a good job doesn’t give them enough information.
Offering opportunities to make amends doesn’t mean your child necessarily owes you amends, it means that they need the opportunity to do better. You can begin by asking your child for ideas how he thinks he might do better next time, and then you can offer your own ideas if appropriate. If your child doesn’t get the part she wanted in the school musical you can talk with her about ways she can practice more before the next audition or take more lessons. These are ways kids can tangibly work toward improvements instead of feeling resentment they didn’t get the part.
Learning to move forward is vital to success, and it takes strong character to move beyond the initial hurt that criticisms might cause. Unfortunately if the criticisms are delivered in unproductive ways it can be harder to move beyond them. Sometimes the best lesson you can teach your child is how to read criticism and know if they are valid or the results of someone venting. There are times in life when we won’t be able to please, no matter what, so we need to learn to move forward and place those criticisms in the “junk mail” folder of our brains.