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How to criticize

Researches across the globe have conclusively proved that people learn far more effectively when they are rewarded for good behavior, than when they are criticized and punished for bad behavior.

Criticizing is easy. It can be done thoughtlessly and effortlessly. Any fool can criticize. But restraining ourselves from doing it is pretty difficult. You need to have a lot of self control, patience, compassion and forgiving attitude.

But it’s worth it! It puts in lots of strength and sweetness in the relationship and also develops child discipline by improving his behavior.

However, sometimes we desperately need to criticize, either for our personal impatience or intolerance or for some other reasons. If it is so, it is better to do it with some tips of the art of criticism. Here is how to criticize your child so that it doesn’t hurt him and serves your purpose:

  •     Wait … hold on for a while
  •     Don’t jump on conclusions: Be generous
  •     Collect facts before starting
  •     How to begin
  •     How to point out mistakes after praise
  •     Point out their mistake indirectly
  •     Refer to your own mistakes
  •     Use suggestive approach
  •     No personal attack
  •     Don't make it a public show
  •     Watch your words
  •     Avoid negative emotions
  •     Soften your voice tone
  •     Mind your body language
  •     Don’t repeat yourself over and over again
  •     Don’t make an issue out of it
  •     Don’t drag history in it
  •     Focus on one topic at a time
  •     Point out important mistakes only
  •     Don’t overload the child with it
  •     Don’t forget the general rules of ‘Parent child communication’
  •     Finish it as early as possible

1. Wait … hold on for a while

If you desperately feel like criticizing your child, wait a minute… hold on … manage your anger for a while. Let this moment pass away. A little while later, you would be somewhat cool and look at the things more rationally and understand the situation better.

If you can let this moment pass away, most of the damage that criticism does would be avoided. I’m sure you would be a different person after 10 minutes to react on the same fault of your child.

2. Don’t jump on conclusions: Be generous

We always tend to jump on conclusions and judge others spontaneously. Instead of understanding the whole situation we pass our judgment on the basis of what we hear from people around us. We immediately say, he’s right’ or ‘he’s wrong’.

Show some generosity. Don’t be in a hurry to judge your kids, and if you do, don’t judge them so harshly … be liberal in your judgment, if at all the need be.

3. Collect facts before starting

Make sure you find out why your child did what he did before you start your session. May be there was no fault on his part. May be you are firing your elder son for the fault of the younger son.

There could be anything… just check it out. There is no point in collecting facts after criticism is made.

4. How to begin

Begin the conversation with a pleasant note. It is always easier to listen to unpleasant things after listening to pleasant things. Having some sugar before taking a bitter medicine always make it easier to tolerate the bitter taste of the medicine.

Begin your criticism with some sincere praise on some positive aspect related to the subject which you want to criticize. Find something positive related to the subject of conversation and praise the child about it and do it liberally and generously. Then slowly come to the criticizing part.

No criticism should precede praise or you’ll lose the effect of praise as well. Spend more time in praise and little time in criticisms.

A word of caution: insincere praise will do more harm than good. Children can easily assess the sincerity we put in our praise. So better we do it sincerely so that he can accept criticism as well.

5. How to point out mistakes after praise

Praise the child for something good about him. Then use the word and and express your criticism in a gentle manner. This will nicely make a flow of the praise into a gentle criticism without sounding harsh and odd. For example:

John, studying in second grade, got ‘B’ in the Maths test and ‘A’ grade in English. Let’s see how his mother praises him for English and then constructively criticises him for Maths. Notice how she joins criticism after praise using the word ‘and’:

Mom: Got an ‘A’ in English! That’s very good! That shows how hard did you work for English, and if you work a little harder in Maths, you could get an ‘A’ in Maths as well.

This makes the criticism subtle. The child can digest it because his self esteem is not hurt. He is delighted with his praise first. The second statement does not hurt him.

A word of caution: Never use but in place of And.

Let’s understand it using the John’s example using ‘but’ in place of ‘and’.

Mom: Got an ‘A’ in English! That’s very good! That shows how hard did you work for English, but if you work a little harder in Maths, you could get an ‘A’ in Maths as well.

‘But’ is a negative word. It emits suspicion. The child now suspects the genuineness of your praise itself. This will switch off his receptive mode. He will suspect a hidden threat and sarcasm in your praise and criticism. You’ll loose your credibility.

6. Point out their mistake indirectly

Never criticise your kids directly or bluntly. Never say, ‘you are wrong’, or ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb’ or something like that. This is potential negative criticism, and would certainly arouse resentment and contempt in the child. He’ll react to criticism in an aggressive manner. Criticize him indirectly, tactfully and gently.

7. Refer to your own mistakes

Remember and talk about your own mistakes before finding faults in your child. You are at least two decades older than your kids. You have seen the world by going through day-to-day struggle. You have seen and experienced childhood, teenage, adulthood, school, college, clubs, job, business, marriage and much more.

But the child is only a few years old. He has not seen all this. He is justified in making many mistakes. And what were you at his age? I am very sure I made several times more mistakes than my son at my son’s age. My son is much smarter and these days all kids are much smarter than we were at their age.

So when ever you want to point out their mistakes don’t forget to mention that you also made that kind of mistakes or worse at his age. Tell him how you were criticized and what mistakes you made in learning ‘how to deal with criticism’. Then you can gently guide him to the correction. Your self criticism will make the child listen to you with open mind.

8. Use suggestive approach

Use suggestive sentences like, ‘Let’s see how we can improve it ….’, ‘Let’s see how you can do it in an easier way’, ‘Let’s brainstorm together’. This makes the atmosphere pleasant and the child would be in the mode of accepting criticism. While making suggestions, you can gently take his attention to the area that you want to criticize and do it subtly.

9. No personal attack

Remember, you have to criticize a negative behavior of the child, and not the ‘person’ of the child. Don’t make personal criticism. Don’t use ‘you’ too often. Don’t declare him ‘fool’, ‘stupid’ etc. These are personal attacks. Get into your child’s shoes and walk in his shoes before criticizing him. Treat him the way you would like to be treated in his situation. Have some respect for him. Try to help him in the difficult task of dealing with criticism by being friendly to him.

10. Don't make it a public show

Do not ever criticize a child in front of any one … do it in the closed room if it is desperately necessary. Public criticism means insult in front of friends, relatives and others. Criticism already inflects injury on the child. Why add insult to the injury?

11. Watch your words

Don’t use words which let them down, like ‘stupid’, ‘dumb’, ‘fool’. Don’t use the words which smell like dictates, commands, orders and judgments. Don’t use sentences like, ‘You must understand…’, ‘I want you to do this…’. These words turn an otherwise cool discussion in a battlefield, because these words trigger the defense mechanism in the child.

12. Avoid negative emotions

Our sole purpose to criticize our kids is to improve them, not to insult or disgrace them. So don’t express the criticism through any negative emotions like anger, hatred, sarcasm or things like that. These emotions let them down and make them feel insulted. Their self-esteem is hurt and criticism ceases to be a constructive criticism. It turns into a destructive criticism.

13. Soften your voice tone

Your voice tone also reflects emotions. How you speak is much more important than what you speak. A simple word ‘Thanks’ can be spoken most politely as well as in grave anger. In both the situation the same word conveys altogether different messages. Criticism must be done only in a mature, friendly, graceful and polite manner. This will help the child in accepting constructive criticism.

14. Mind your body language

Remember most of your emotions are reflected through your body language. So mind your body language. Straighten the skin folds on your fore head, relax your facial muscles, eye-brows, and other body muscles. If you find it difficult to control your body language, try to smile before and during the conversation. Smile tends to relax the tension and emits positive vibration, which calms down the temperature of the situation. Help him in handling criticism.

15. Don’t repeat yourself over and over again

Resist the feeling of repeating the same criticizing words over and over again in the same session. Saying one thing once in proper manner sends the message across. If you’ve not said it in a proper manner, it won’t serve the purpose even if you may repeat it ten more times. On the contrary, repetition arouses resentment and contempt in the child’s heart.

16. Don’t make an issue out of it

Don’t dramatize and make a scene out of it. It’s not the end of the world. Most mistakes can be corrected. Keep this in low profile and make the mistake seem easy to correct. This will relieve the child of the heaviness on his heart caused by the feeling of guild of making a mistake. Try to wind it up as early as possible and forget it after that. Don’t discuss this event ever in future as reference or historical record while making a new criticism.

17. Don’t drag history in it

Never drag any previous event into the current session. Dragging a previous error will make it a mess. You will lose the focus of improving the behavior and arguments on unnecessary things would start. The child will come in battle mode and start defending his stand for the previous events. Very soon you will find yourself beating about the bush.

18. Focus on one topic at a time

If you are criticizing your kid for one fault, focus on that only, don’t drag any other topic in the conversation or you’ll lose your focus. Concentrate on one useful criticism at a time. Dragging more topics will dilute the message you want to give to your child. Too many issues will defeat each other.

19. Point out important mistakes only

Avoid criticism of trifles. Don’t show your child that your eyes are X-ray machine and the child can’t escape doing any mistake. Nobody likes to be under surveillance at all times. Forgive their petty mistakes. Constant criticism creates serious problems.

If you criticise them for every small mistake they won’t take you seriously. You will be branded as ‘over critical’ or ‘over sensitive’. Very soon kids will loose their sensitivity to criticism and get immune to what you criticize, and instead of learning how to handle criticism, they will learn how to ignore it.

20. Don’t overload the child with it
Everything has an upper and lower limit. Some children are very sensitive to criticism while others are not as much. Measure your child’s limits to tolerate criticism. Keep your limits to the minimum. Avoid severe criticism.

Even if you are dealing with a hardened kid, don’t criticize beyond the minimum dose required. Intense criticism can depress the child. Minor criticism is always safe. The main food for your kid’s behavior is encouragement. Constructive criticisms are only medicines. Medicines are always given in small doses.

21. Don’t forget the general rules of 'effective communication with children'

The general rules of effective communication with children apply on every interaction of the parents with the kids. These rules set the basic stage on which every activity involving interaction between parents and children happens. So, don’t forget them at all. Add on these rules with them.

22. Finish it as early as possible

Remember when your parents used to criticize you? I remember that. Every minute used to pass like a full day. I would anxiously wait for the session to come to an end. Even now if someone criticizes us, we want it to finish at once. Remember: your child is not having fun being criticized. So, finish it as early as possible.


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