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Take a Closer Look

It isn’t easy to be on the receiving end of criticism. We tend to react quickly and defensively when our children complain about us. It’s when we slow down and take time to reflect on what we’re hearing that we operate at our best (see Don’t React — Respond). In Receiving Their Criticism, the exchange seems headed for a power struggle until the girl says to her father, “How would you feel if I embarrassed you in front of your friends.” That’s when dad gets quiet and slows down long enough to think about his daughter’s words. Here are the elements that lead to success when we’re on the receiving end of our children’s complaints:

Check Your Defensiveness

In this scene, Dad quickly becomes defensive when his daughter complains that he scolded her in front of a friend. His knee-jerk defensiveness seems to put them on a bad path. Happily, he reins in his defensiveness and stays open to hear, and think about, what she’s saying (see Receiving Criticism).

Acknowledge What’s True

We don’t always see the validity of our kids’ complaints and criticisms in the moment. But if we can find even a morsel of truth, it’s wise to acknowledge it. Reflecting on his daughter’s words, the father in this scene realizes there’s merit to her complaint. That’s when he says, “You’re right.” (Watch the video Valuing Their Words for a depiction of a parent who isn’t sure there’s merit to her son’s criticism.)  Dad’s acknowledgment in Receiving Their Criticism shifts the conversation from a power struggle to one of connection. By altering his tone, the father lets his daughter know that he hears and understands her embarrassment. Importantly, this does not mean that he drops his concerns about her homework. It’s simply his acknowledgement that his daughter felt embarrassed by what he did (see Trusting Emotions).

Apologize When Appropriate

Sometimes, a complaint simply delivers information without referencing any relationship injury. (“Dad, I don’t like when you drive so fast.”) In those instances, an apology may not be needed. But when there’s been harm to the relationship (“Dad, you embarrassed me”), an apology can repair the harm. The father in this scene repairs the harm he’s created through his sincere apology.

Appreciate The Feedback

A child’s complaint, delivered without condemnation or belittling, is part of healthy family communication and should be encouraged and appreciated when it’s delivered well. “Thank you for pointing that out to me,” dad says to his daughter. This builds her self-esteem as a person with ideas worth hearing, and strengthens the bond between them.

Like all parents, this father wants his daughter to regard him with respect. But he doesn’t want it to be blind respect, something she delivers out of obligation, whether she feels it or not. He wants her respect to be genuine and he knows it must be earned. The courage to set aside ego and listen to his daughter’s complaint, his willingness to examine his own behavior, and his sensitivity to her feelings as evidenced in his apology, come together to promote her respect for him (see When We Apologize).

Watch the video without narration

Talking to Kids You Love is written and created by Aaron Cooper, Ph.D., in collaboration with Marina Eovaldi, Ph.D., and Benjamin Rosen, Ph.D. The project is made possible by a generous grant from The Golub Family Foundation.