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The Myth of “Constructive Criticism”

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The term “constructive criticism” is an oxymoron. Construction builds, criticism knocks down.

“You’re lazy”

“You talk too loudly.”

“You need to work harder at school.”

If you talk like this you’ve probably found that your kids don’t snap to attention and change their behaviour just because you’ve pointed out their shortcomings. Eye rolls, shoulder shrugs and tuning you out are more likely reactions.


Here’s the dilemma: You want your kids to be the best they can possibly be. When you see a problem, you feel it’s your duty to point it out so they can work on fixing it. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Most kids don’t react well to constructive criticism. When they’re criticized, they often feel bad about the negative feedback—even if they can’t articulate this feeling. It hurts to hear someone point out your mistakes and weaknesses, particularly if they’re true. To protect themselves from these uncomfortable feelings they put up a defence.

Arguing with you or tuning you out, are the two most common defensive reactions to criticism—both of which increase your frustration. So what do you do when you see something that needs to be addressed?

• Eliminate criticism, especially negative labelling from your vocabulary, and minimize your focus on mistakes. Instead, look for the positive and comment on the good things you see: “Wow, you got right to work on your homework today.” Encouragement is much more motivating than criticism.

• If there’s a problem that needs to be addressed, sit down at a quiet time and express your concern using “I” messages. “I” messages put the focus on your feelings—not on your child. “I feel worried when you don’t get your homework done because I’m afraid you are going to get behind in math. How do you feel about my concern?” By focussing on your feelings instead of what he’s doing wrong, he won’t feel attacked. This approach can lead to a problem solving discussion and stimulate real solutions.

• Ask—don’t tell. Ask your child what she thinks of her behaviour. Her self-evaluation is more important than what you or anyone else thinks of her. “What do you think of your report card?” If she’s not happy, ask her what she thinks she can do to improve her grades.

• Make rules together. When you do this with your children it leads to greater cooperation, but if you’re having a problem getting your child to comply with a rule, try reminding her a few times in a positive way, “Your jacket belongs on the hook inside the closet door.” If she continues to leave her jacket on the floor, use a logical consequence such as putting the jacket in a “lost & found” box in the basement. This will help you avoid nagging and criticism.


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Guest Saturday, 24 February 2024

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