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Helping your child learn to give 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...

Helpful, not hurtful

Learning to receive criticism is an important life skill, and it can be a challenge to master when such judgment is not always given in constructive and helpful ways! Words meant for improvement are given inelegantly -- or even angrily -- and discerning the real message can be difficult. Along with helping your child learn to receive criticism, take that discussion to the next level and help him learn to give criticism in a truly constructive way.

Girl and criticism

Giving criticism to our kids is something many of us do almost without thought. It's part of an on-going dialogue with them about growing into capable and self-sufficient adults. Kids criticize, too -- us, their siblings, friends and so on. They often are asked to criticize in the course of the school day as well. They learn how to criticize from us, both by instruction and by example. As parents, we can help our children learn to give constructive criticism. Learning to criticize well is a gift for everyone!

Remember the Golden Rule

In every instance, remembering to treat others as your child would want to be treated is key. This does not necessarily mean, "I wouldn't want to be criticized, so I won't criticize," but it can help your child figure out whether something is worthy of criticizing. For example, it may hold your daughter back from making critical comments about the color or a friend's shirt -- but may compel her to say something about the trail of tissue paper poking out of that friend's pocket.

Put aside anger

Angry words rarely are an effective means of communicating. If your child is feeling anger about something a friend or sibling does, launching a critical comment in the midst of that anger may result in the criticism being wholly dismissed. If your child is feeling angry, he or she should step back, count to 10, and try to rethink without the intense emotion.

Focus on specifics, not the person

Criticisms should focus on specific actions or things, not the person. Single out things for improvement, not personality traits for judgment. A poorly executed school election sign does not mean the sign maker is a bad person! Your child can and should consider the difference.

Use kind, positive words

The adage, "You catch more bees with honey than with vinegar," is true! Kind words -- even criticisms wrapped up in a compliment -- are more likely to get through to the receiver than angry words. Again, this goes back to the Golden Rule. What kind of words would your child like to hear when they are criticized?

Suggest a solution

If at all possible, suggest a solution as part of the criticism. Although it's not always appropriate to do so, when it is, your child can use this technique to further emphasize a positive, constructive tone in the criticism. "How about…," opens the receiver's ears; "You shouldn't…," closes them.

Move on

Once a criticism is given, move on. Dwelling on a criticism can just make situations feel more awkward and negative. Also remember that many criticisms really are just serious suggestions; particularly in your child's realm, the recipient isn't necessarily required to do as your child suggests -- as helpful as your child is trying to be. Maybe the friend likes the shirt your daughter criticized? Or the school election sign was intentionally painted that way?

Intentionally teaching our kids how to give constructive criticism is challenging, but worthy of our time. We may even learn some new skills ourselves in the process.

Read more about kids and relationships with friends

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