If the term “constructive criticism” makes you cringe, as it does to many of us, you may find it challenging to teach your child about receiving criticism. You are not alone. We all experience criticism in our lives, constructive and otherwise. What usually is meant to be helpful and to urge you toward improvement sometimes comes off as mean judgment — and sometimes it is mean judgment. Helping our kids to discern the difference and take criticism constructively can be quite the challenge.
Whether they (or we) like it, criticism is a part of life. Criticism is s a part of school life, home life, athletic life and social life. When you think about it, we’ve been criticizing our kids from the get-go. Sure, we called it discipline, or helping them learn correct behaviors, but at its core was criticism, lovingly intended or not. Why does some criticism get absorbed well and some start your child’s waterworks? Usually it’s in the delivery.
Talk about why
First thing is first, and in age-appropriate terms, you need to communicate to your kids about what criticism is and why it happens. When criticism comes from you or a family member, its source is a deep desire to see your child be the best he can be; it comes from love. When it comes from a teacher or other adult, it’s likely also because that person wants to see your child do well. When it comes from other people, the reason for it might be wholly different. The lines are a little more blurred.
Criticisms, although they can feel deeply personal, are about actions. Making this distinction with your child can be difficult in the younger years, but if you build the concept over time your child will be better equipped to handle the criticisms that come his or her way for a lifetime.
Listen for the content
When it comes to taking criticism, we hope that all forms of criticism will come in a constructive and helpful format. However, that is not always the case. Helping your child understand the meaning of, “Don’t shoot the messenger,” can help them focus on the content of any criticism that is received, even from us loving parents. Hey, we all have bad days and occasionally don’t phrase things in the perfect way.
The ability to pull the positive out of a negative statement or criticism is a tremendous skill that will serve your child well. If your child can hear the phrase from the coach, “You never kick the soccer ball with your left foot,” and take away from it, “My right foot is really strong. I need to practice kicking the soccer ball with both feet to become a better player overall,” he or she has a tremendous advantage in understanding and likely will benefit for a lifetime.
Sometimes it crosses the line
Sometimes, however, criticism has no base message at all. There is some criticism that your child will receive that is really all about the criticizer and not at all about anything that truly needs improving in your child. Discerning this is tricky.
If given a piece of criticism in an inelegant or angry way, rather than dismissing it outright, your child can seek advice from other trusted adults — whether you, another teacher, a pastor or friend — and discuss the criticism and possible appropriate responses. Your child does not have to accept all criticism in a vacuum!
Criticism is a fact of life. Learning to receive it gracefully is a challenging skill, and one many of us will spend a lifetime mastering! Working with your child on the basics of receiving criticism is a gift.