I've spent a lot of time blogging about how we should praise our kids, but someone asked me the other day if there is a correct way to criticize them. Good question. Here are some ideas, a couple of which I gleaned from from A Nation of Wimps by Hara Estroff Marano (Broadway Books, 2008).

  1. If you feel disappointed in a child's performance, approach the topic constructively. First, ask them to evaluate their performance themselves with questions like, "Are you happy with how you did?" and "Is there anything you'll do differently next time?" Ask them why they feel the way they do, and what they learned. Ask if there is anything they need to reach their goals that they aren't currently getting. Perhaps they feel like they need a tutor, to have more regular family meals, or to make a plan to watch less TV.

  2. Make it clear that you see failure as an event, not an identity. If a child is disappointed in her performance or an outcome, empathize ("I can tell you are pretty upset about this") and then help her strategize about how she can make things go differently next time. Try to engage them in what we used to call "Failure Analysis" in the product development industry—the process of collecting and analyzing available data to figure out what happened, and how to prevent it from happening again. Failure analysis, by its very nature, is a way of embracing mistakes as a way to learn and grow. Leave the "I told you so" out of the discussion; this is the hardest thing ever for me. Just flows off the tongue for me to say things like, "I asked you a thousand times to put your homework folder in your backpack as soon as you were done instead of waiting until the morning." Better to ask about times when things worked out well: "Yesterday you remembered your homework. What did you do then that you didn't do today?" Teach kids that the way to do better next time is to understand which efforts pay off and which strategies work.

  3. Never express anger when children make mistakes, or imply that you love them less. Mistakes are just mistakes; while they might need to be dealt with, they are never grounds to withdraw love.

  4. Accept that sometimes second best is good enough, and communicate this.

  5. Empathize when children make mistakes – ask them how they feel and then repeat that back to them. For example: "I can tell you are really disappointed" or "It sounds like you felt really embarrassed." Don't just replay how bad it feels – get to the part where having a failure doesn't matter anymore: "It sounds like that was really hard at first but I'm glad to see that you can laugh at yourself now."

Okay, so those five things aren't really criticizing your kids – just constructive ways to react when you feel like criticizing. Do you think it is ever okay to out and out criticize your kids? If so, when and why?

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© 2008 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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Here’s a few do’s and don’ts that helped me with my kids.
Don’t ever tell your child that he or she is stupid, ugly, good-for-nothing, worthless, etc.
Don’t “label” your children…the good one, the wild one, the talented one, the smart one, the lazy one, etc.
Don’t make derogatory remarks about your child to other people in their presence.
Don’t hold one sibling up as an example to another.  In other words, don’t say, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”
Along the same lines, never draw comparisons between your child and another family member who may be a poor role model.  In other words, never say, “You’re just like your no-good jailbird dad.”
Make your child aware of her strengths.
Don’t draw attention to her weaknesses.  She knows what she’s not good at.
Allow your child to make mistakes and see to it they learn from them.
When opportunities presents themselves, teach your child problem-solving skills, first by example then by guided practice.
Do let your children experience the logical consequences of their actions if it’s safe.
Wouldn’t it be great if young people were taught this sort of thing so they’d be prepared for parenthood?  What a concept!

David | 6:03 pm, October 15, 2008 | Link


It occurs to me that one should approach the making of mistakes as learning opportunities with the fundamental understanding that mistakes are often some of the best teachable moments.  I always stipulate that it is okay to make mistakes while you are learning, and strongly suggest we work together to learn from them.

windspike | 10:20 am, October 16, 2008 | Link


The first thing I do when I feel like criticizing my kids is stop and THINK – what do I want to come of it? Am I thinking that if I criticize them they will see my POV and change next time? Am I criticizing them because *I* am embarrassed when they are not? (this is it most of the time)
Seems like what the blog post discusses how to make a child feel better when THEY feel bad about making a mistake vs. when someone else (e.g. a parent) sees a “mistake” and gives their version why its wrong to a child = criticsm.
Rather than even criticize, maybe I’ve found it’s great to think about natural consequences…for instance, if I don’t stop by son from picking his noes in public, is there a chance and he will in fact grow out of it?
Once I stop and think, I remember that i too picked my nose in public and I don’t do it anymore because it’s not socially acceptable (only in the car I guess…) Once I remember that nature has it’s own way for fixing most of the problems and children DO in fact know when they make mistakes, and if I’ve invested in a relationship with my child they will come to me for comfort about sadness when it’s appropriate, then it takes a lot of pressure off.
Someone recently told me, “ignore inconsequential behavior” and a lightbulb went on — i thought there wasn’t such a thing.
Remember, you don’t need to FIX every aspect of your child’s behavior because nature will do that for you in most instances.
Enlightend, but imperfect Mama

Mo mo | 10:56 am, October 16, 2008 | Link



can we use your article in the Quest news paper



Halim Gabori | 12:44 am, October 21, 2008 | Link


Great tips!

Amy Trice (Graco) | 10:23 am, December 12, 2008 | Link

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