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Monday Mom challenge: Learn to give and receive criticism

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Building up, not tearing down

Giving and receiving criticism is highly personal. It’s inherently negative feedback on some aspect of an individual’s life and/or actions. While it is a necessary part of life -- like it or not -- it’s hard. It is. Most of us criticize our kids on a daily basis as part and parcel of parenting, intending helpfulness and loving judgment. Sometimes it’s effective, and sometimes it’s not. Before we can begin to teach about giving and receiving criticism to our children effectively, we need to figure it out for ourselves.

Women talking on bench

The ability to give and receive constructive criticism is a critical life skill -- and one that not many do well. As moms, it's a skill we hope to impart to our children even while we struggle with it in our own lives. No one likes being criticized and told they are doing something wrong! Under the guise of helpfulness, however, we often end up hurting or being hurt. Even if the goal is improvement, judgment in any form is a delicate issue.

A fine line

Criticism of any kind walks a fine line between constructive and accepted, to…not. With every bit of criticism given or received, there is a risk of hurt. Whether the criticism is personal or professional in nature, there are still human beings involved. Individual personalities and fluctuating emotions -- even the amount of recent sleep of both the giver and receiver! -- do affect how criticism is received and given.

The message vs the messenger

Just as we try to remind our children to use the Golden Rule when interacting with others, the arena of criticism is one where we could stand regular reminders ourselves. When we offer criticism, whether to a family member, friend or colleague, remembering to use words we would like to hear ourselves helps ensure that the core message is getting through, and not getting overly caught up in how it's said. When we are on the receiving end of criticism, remembering there may be extenuating factors affecting the words the criticizer is using may help us focus on the message instead of the messenger.

Balance and tact

There's a difference between, "You did that wrong. It's awful," and, "I see what you're trying to get at. Perhaps approaching it in a different way would be more effective." As a receiver of criticism, you likely would prefer to hear the latter, but how many times, in haste or frustration, do you revert to delivering the former? Yup, been there, done that.

As different as home is from the workplace, tips from workplace organizational consultants can help you refine your criticism giving and receiving skills -- and teach them to your kids. If an issue is really worthy of criticism, focus on an action or result, rather than an individual, and offer suggestions for an alternate result if at all possible. Wrap criticisms in compliments and consider your vocal tone and body language. Give the criticism away from the prying ears and eyes of others.

When others criticize you, push through the initial negative or embarrassed emotions and try to focus on the content of the criticism. Be honest with yourself about whether the criticism has merit and think carefully how you could take that suggestion for improvement to heart.

Criticism is a part of life. When we work at giving and receiving constructive criticism, we are improving not just ourselves, but our communication and parenting skills. And, tough as it is, it's a worthy effort.

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