Is Giving Criticism Bad? | Teaching Self-Government

Is Giving Criticism Bad?

You use the word "criticism" often when you're talking about corrective teaching...That word however, has a very negative connotation to me, and each time I hear you say it on your CD's, I cringe inwardly...
I listen to and read a lot of stuff on marriage and parenting, and the word "criticism" is always used as a negative term.  It's considered one of the 6 Love Busters in Harley's book, Love Busters.  John Gottman, in his books on marriage, includes it in "a set of particularly poisonous patterns of interaction [he calls] "the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" that can send couples into a downward spiral that ends in divorce.  He says,
Often, criticism appears as a complaint or episode of blaming that's coupled with a global attack on your partner's personality or character.  Criticism frequently begins with "you always" or "you never" (from 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage, p. 5).
An example of this would be something like, "You're so lazy, you never finish the dishes!"
The reason I'm mentioning all this is that I think you don't actually mean that kind of criticism when you're using that word...  

Reader, you have hit on something really profound here.  People alter the meanings of words over the years.  Some people manipulate the meaning of a word to fit their semantic understanding of it.  Let's take the word change for instance. 

Recently, President Obama used that word in such a general way that people all over the country were left to decide on their own what he meant by Change.  This was an ingenious word to use, because some people look at change as  good, and some look at change as bad.  But, even though some like change and some don't everyone in our country sees things which they would like changed.  By being so general in the use of that word he was able to increase his support because everyone was expecting him to change the things they think need changing.  This word made it possible for him to seem like he had common opinions with all the American people. 

I see the word CHANGE as good and bad depending on the situation and how a person semantically means change. 

The word CRITICISM  is no different.  Saying, "You are so lazy..."  is definitely criticism, but this would be considered destructive criticism.  Saying, "You need to shower today"  is also criticism, but it would be considered constructive criticism.  One kind builds and one kind tears down.  However, the second example could fall into the category of destructive criticism if the person speaking has a negative or condescending tone instead of a supportive, loving tone. 

The definition of criticism is: "The art of judging with propriety of the beauties, merits and faults of a performance or piece of work"   

This definition, in Webster's 1828 dictionary, is the definition of criticism which I am referring to when I speak of teaching children how to accept criticism. 

Believe it or not, some people don't even know how to accept positive criticism.  I have told many people that they look beautiful, only to hear a reply like, 'Oh, no I don't,  I really need to get a new shirt." Etc. 

A confident, mature adult can accept all kinds of criticism, positive and negative.  If my daughter can't accept positive criticism from me about her appearance I would correct her behavior just like I would if she couldn't accept a constructive criticism remark from me about her appearance.  As parents, we have a responsibility to set standards for our children.  I have many standards which I expect my children to live by.  I have a recent post called Peck Family Standard which goes into more detail about my standards. 

If for some reason my child does something that is in conflict with our family standard, it is my responsibility, as their life mentor and parent, to bring the standard to their attention and help them correct the problem.  If I don't do this, my children will feel somewhat lost and will fail in learning how to discipline and govern themselves.  A person must have standards to live by in order to become disciplined.  The standards are the vision which inspires the child to make themselves great by governing themselves. 

I have met many families over the years who were afraid to ever tell their child that they needed to fix something about their appearance, etc.  The parents were afraid the child would feel threatened or attacked by the parent.  This is a dangerous mental place to be as a parent.  If you feel your child's emotions are more important than your role as a parent, then you might be non-verbally telling them that they don't need to respect you as their parent by coddling them too much. 

One of these families mentioned above, had a teen-aged son who started dressing like a person who belongs to a gang.  They didn't like it, but said nothing to him.  He started using language that matched his clothes and hair.  They said nothing.  He started picking different kinds of friends to associate with.  They said nothing.  He started treating them with disrespect, and distanced himself from his siblings.  Still they said nothing.  They gave him no criticism.  Sure they asked him to clean is room, and do his chores, but they never crossed the line and told him what they didn't approve of about his life's choices. 

After a while , the parents found out the boy had become involved in very destructive behaviors.  Behaviors which put him in jail.  Over a year the boy, not criticised, took away his own freedom, his family, and his virtue.  It took him a long time and a lot of counseling to get some of those things back.  I am happy to report, he did make a change though.  And so did his parents.  They are no longer worried about offending one of their children by giving them constructive criticism.  They make sure that they keep calm faces and loving, calm voices when they give such criticism, but they give it. 

Make sure to give lots of positive criticism to your children daily.  Positive criticism is called praise.  For every one time you correct your child, you should give 6-10 positive criticisms. 

In my seminars and presentations I always spend a large amount of time talking about not labeling our children, loving our children, trusting in their innate goodness, and accepting them by making home the safest place to make mistakes.  If home is the safest place to make mistakes then destructive criticism should not occur. 

However, we can not cripple our children by never giving constructive criticism to them.  Life is full of disappointments and critiques.  No matter what the disappointment or criticism is, a mature adult knows how to accept it and move on.  People that can't move on become failures. 

We should never teach out children to be hurt by words.  They need to be strong.  "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  I used to say this when I was a child to people giving me destructive criticism.  It reminded me that I was in charge of what hurt. 

I also learned at a young age that if my parents said my appearance need to be improved that it did.  For our family relationships to be effective, children must accept the counsel and criticisms from their parents.  If they can't respect us enough to accept simple criticisms, then they are probably out of instructional control. 

There is a great movie called, Remember the Titans.  In this movie, Coach Yost thinks that Coach Boone is being too hard on his black players.  He starts to pity the black players and gives them special treatment.  Coach Boone pulls Coach Yost aside and basically says that Coach Yost is not doing these black players any favor by babying them, because the lives ahead of them will be hard.  They need to get criticism for what they do wrong so they can be ready to be strong and stand tall in a hard world.   

I must admit that when I first saw this movie, I thought Coach Boone was being cruel too.  I felt bad for the players he was harsh with.  But, when he said those words to Coach Yost, I knew he was right.  We can't protect our children from failure or criticism.  It all needs to be faced and lovingly conquered together. 

Giving constructive criticism is essential to making strong people who know what is right.  As much as I know some people could take me wrong for using the term criticism, I am going to stick with it because criticism is part of life whether good or bad.

You are right.  I don't mean destructive criticism.  Thank you for such a great, thought provoking question. 

Keep Swimming,

Nicholeen