We all want the very best for our children. We all want them to be their best. And we all want to help them to be their best. This is what makes a good parent, right?
One pitfall of this mindset, though, is when we “help” our children to be “better” by pointing out all of the things that are wrong, or areas for them to improve.
Sometimes it is helpful to point out a problem or an area for improvement. Most of the time, however, our children only hear that we are finding fault with them. And when we fall into a pattern where we become a stream of criticism, it can really wear our children down.
Think about how you feel when you are around someone who is criticizing someone else all day long. Does it lift you up, or does it wear you down? Even if the person being criticized isn’t you, it gets tiresome listening to the constant criticism.
If you find yourself in a pattern of pointing out all of the wrong that is going on with your child or children, here are some ideas to help you change your approach and allow you to foster more connection.
Opportunities to NOT criticize
- You are at the grocery store when you realize that your child spilled something on his shirt at lunch: You could point the spill out, but it won’t help your child gain better fine motor skills or remember to put on a clean shirt before leaving the house. All pointing out the stain now would do is to make the child feel bad for spilling and having to wear a dirty shirt. Instead, keep the criticism to yourself for now, and next time provide an apron or bib for lunch and/or check the shirt before leaving the house.
- You find yourself comparing the abilities of your child with another child, and your child is the runner-up: Keep it to yourself and focus instead on your child’s greater abilities. We all excel in some areas and are deficient in others. Life is not a contest to be better at everything than everyone else. Help your child learn to appreciate herself for who she is.
- You are running errands and your child has to handle everything near him: Resist the urge to start into “Why can’t you remember to keep your hands to yourself?! Get over here and keep your hands on the shopping cart! I’m not bringing you next time if you can’t listen!” Instead, try taking a deep breath and remembering that your child is just so excited and overwhelmed by the new experience that he is just forgetting what he is supposed to be doing. Remind him about what he should be doing instead of criticizing what he shouldn’t. Try something along the lines of “Remember, we need to look with our eyes, not with our hands. I’m afraid that something might get broken if we keep touching everything we see.”
- Your child is approaching a task a different way than you would: Wait and see how it goes for him without commentary first – unless there is a safety issue or you truly believe that something will get broken in the process. Sometimes, he will surprise you by doing something in a way you never thought of before. If not, not getting it right the first time is often a better teacher than being shown the “right” way to do something.
- Your child can’t seem to walk across a room without tripping, eat without ruining an outfit, or hold a cup without creating a small lake: Criticizing your child is not going to make her less clumsy. Instead, be prepared for bumps, bruises, and clean ups. Provide an apron to cover your child’s outfit while eating. Have towels and wipes ready throughout the house to make clean ups easier. Your child will outgrow the clumsiness eventually – and if she doesn’t, will your criticism have helped at all?
- Your child’s personality is not the one you would have picked, had you gotten to decide: You don’t get to decide, and nothing you can do will give your child a different personality. We all have different quirks, faults, and deficiencies, along with our own highlights, strengths, and abilities. Criticizing your child’s personality can bring about no good. Helping your child learn coping skills to deal with his less than stellar qualities is a much more worthy investment of your time, and will actually leave your child with a strength instead of leaving him feeling like you simply don’t like him.
In the end, being a good parent is less about pointing out all of the ways that our children need to improve, and more about teaching them the critical skills they will need to navigate life.
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