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March 01, 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.1

References & Citations
  1. 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.