How to Properly Frame Criticism

December 31, 2013 by  
Filed under News

Denise Savidge, Academic Dean, Cherokee Creek Boys School

Denise Savidge, Academic Dean, Cherokee Creek Boys School

How often has what we considered a simple direction or instruction to a child escalated into a power struggle of mammoth proportions?

We want our child to do well in school, be fairly neat in their home environment and abide by simple rules, and when they fail to do so, it becomes a battlefield.

In a wonderful Psychology Today article (March/April 2013), writer Mary Loftus talks of the importance of giving constructive criticism in a way children can hear it. She writes, “Criticism is the single most significant factor in a child’s perception of the parental relationship. It’s important to criticize without demeaning or humiliating.” Often when we think we are giving direction, we are really beginning by condemning them, which can damage the parent/child relationship.

For poor grades or a failed experiment in something new, she suggests asking your child to evaluate his performance and ask what he got out of the experience. Then she says to turn the conversation to how they might do things differently the next time to achieve their desired result. Framing it as a lesson learned and giving options to do better the next time gives children power to overcome a failure.

How often do we come home and say, “This place is a mess. You have until so-and-so to get this cleaned up or there will be no (insert activity here.)” which is usually followed by a big argument, talking back, or worse. The problem, Loftus explains, is that we go right to the grilling and the incorrect behavior without first going on a “fact-finding  discussion.”

Instead of saying, “This playroom is a mess, you’re not having any friends over until it’s clean,”  she suggests explaining first and skip complaining, by stating “I’d love to see your playroom cleaned up by this weekend so you and your friends can have fun this weekend.”

CCBS Science LabI thought while reading the article that it sounded a little wishy-washy, so I tried it out on the messy playroom in my own basement. My daughter was having a big skating and slumber party for six girls and I had no time to straighten before racing around town to borrow a vehicle big enough to transport them all to the festivities. So I used the phrase above, word for word. Her answer: “Ok. I’ll go do that now.” I almost fell off my chair. By acknowledging that her party was important to her and phrasing the request in a positive manner, she was willing to jump right on it. Everyone was happy.

Around campus, the phrase, “How could you have done that differently resulting in a more positive result?”) is common.  (Sometimes we abbreviate to boy lingo, like, “How’d that work out for you?”)  Either way, the boys reflect and take ownership of mistakes while giving thought to what they will do better next time. There is no blame or judgment in these simple phrases and there is always another chance to do better. Often, the positive redirection with an additional chance to try again will get them to where they need to be.

Denise Savidge serves as Academic Dean at Cherokee Creek Boys School in Westminster, SC., and also teaches Language Arts and Social Studies.

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