Receiving Criticism l February/March 2015

Can your kids easily accept criticism? Can they receive feedback calmly and with an open mind, or do they get touchy and defensive?

How good are you at receiving criticism?

Our children learn a lot about how to receive criticism from the example we set. That’s why it makes sense to do a lot of demonstrating: frequently ask them to give you feedback. Say: How do you think I did in the kitchen tonight? What do you think about the way I spoke to the salesperson just now? What do you think about how I handled your friend when he started misbehaving during your play date? After they say a few words:

  • Model non-defensiveness by calmly asking them to elaborate, as needed, so that you can fully understand their thinking.
  • Gently correct them if they critiqued you-as-a-person rather than your behavior. Teach them that criticism must always be about actions or words, never about the person as a whole. “You’re lazy” is unacceptable; “You didn’t finish cleaning up after yourself” is better. “You’re stupid” is unacceptable; “Your words confused me” is better.
  • Say, “I appreciate your comments. I’m going to think about what you said and decide for myself what to accept and what to dismiss.”
  • In a day or two, revisit the conversation and let your son or daughter know what you’ve decided. (“Your feedback will be helpful to me and I’m going to take it seriously,” or “I’ve thought about your words, and I don’t agree with what you told me. But I do appreciate hearing your ideas.”)

We want our kids to recognize the power they have in passing any and all criticism through the filter of their own logical brain — whether it comes from you, teachers or friends — taking in what they’ve decided is of value, and setting aside what they’ve decided is not. As youngsters, they will need your help learning how to weigh and measure any feedback they receive, in order for them to learn how it’s done. But your example will carry the most punch as they observe you receiving their feedback — calmly listening, bringing an open and curious mind to what you hear, taking time to reflect and decide whether there’s value. The goal is that they learn to receive feedback without suffering emotional injury or building a wall of defensiveness.i

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i If you’re unable to set this sort of example for your children, make it a priority to work on it yourself. A few sessions with a counselor may help you jump-start your own capacity to become, in this way, the skilled parent you hope to be.

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Violent Gaming l January 2015

While kids everywhere play violent videogames, parents wonder about negative effects from all that shooting, maiming and killing. Some scientific research is worth our attention.

It’s no surprise that research has documented increased physical and psychological arousal in the aftermath of violent gaming. Of particular concern is the finding that such games result in ruder and more insensitive behavior toward others immediately after the game playing.i The effect has been found to last up to nine minutes — long enough to be an issue if your game-playing youngster rejoins family activity immediately upon leaving the game console. Observe your child’s re-entry after violent gaming. Perhaps there would be benefit from a “cooling down” period — chilling out with a book or non-stimulating TV show — so he or she is better positioned to bring courtesy and sensitivity to others, and to exercise self-control.

Researchers are concerned that over the long term, violent gaming leads to desensitization — violent images stop having any impact after enough regular exposure. There’s evidence that areas of the brain responsible for empathy in particular, show negative changes among teens exposed to violent images over long periods of time, leading to what some researchers describe as a kind of moral immaturity.ii Speculation is that excessive violent gaming may be replacing traditional, positive social experiences in a youngster’s life — hanging out with friends, participating in extra-curricular clubs and activities, reading or watching TV — allowing the games’ values to carry undue influence when it comes to the development of an accurate sense of right and wrong.iii

Parents might be wise to set time limits on violent game play (while endorsing non-violent videogames), and make a point of educating youngsters (through film, television, books and especially conversation) about the suffering that results from even relatively minor violence. The goal is to promote in our sons and daughters the development of empathy and a recognition that senseless violence must never be treated casually or with indifference.

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i Barlett, Christopher, et al. How long do the short-term violent video game effects last? Aggressive Behavior, Volume 35, Issue 3, May/June 2009, pages 225–236.
ii Brock, Bastian et al. Cyber-dehumanization: Violent video game play diminishes our humanity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 48, Issue 2, March 2012, pages 486–491.
iii Bajovic, Mirjana. Violent video gaming and moral reasoning in adolescents: is there an association? Educational Media International, Volume 50, Issue 3, 2013, pages 177-191.

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Mindful Parenting l November/December 2014

Which of your "brains" do you use when you discipline your kids — your emotional brain, or your logical brain?

If you tend to react quickly to your children’s missteps, as most of us do, you’re probably working from your emotional brain. It’s designed through evolution to fly into action quickly rather than pause, evaluate, and weigh and measure next steps. (Read Two Brains, April/May 2014.)

The most effective parenting comes from our logical brain. It enables us to think about our children’s misbehavior, notice the emotional impact the misbehavior is having on us, and consider all options before we say or do anything. Knee-jerk reactions rarely lead to fine parenting.

For instance, you hear loud sounds coming from your son's bedroom. When you open the door you find him hurling his books and toys off shelves and onto the floor in a fit of extreme anger. His face is red, his chest is puffing, and homework sheets are strewn everywhere. What do you do?

If you react quickly — perhaps scolding, yelling, or demanding that he pick everything up at once — you’re working from your emotional brain. On the other hand, if you slowly survey the scene, notice how worked up you are right now, ask what happened, perhaps acknowledge how angry he seems, and decide to talk to him later about what set him off and how he handled frustration — after you and he both cool down — you're working from your logical brain.

We’re more effective when we respond rather than react … but only our logical brain is capable of responding. It does so only once we move our emotional brain out of the way. That’s accomplished by learning to insert time between the stimulus (what our kids say or do) and our response. It’s part of what’s known as mindful parenting. Maybe we take deep breaths and privately count slowly to ten before opening our mouths. Or maybe we say to our kids, “I don’t like what I see … I don’t like what’s going on … I’m going to think about it and we’ll talk later.” Short of a toddler dashing into the street, few moments with our children are best handled through an instantaneous reaction.

“When emotional reactions replace mindfulness …
it is very unlikely that you will be able to maintain nurturing
communication and connection with your child.”1


1Siegel, Daniel J. and Mary Hartzell. Parenting from the Inside Out. (New York: Tarcher/ Putnam), 2003.

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