Is It Okay To Criticise Your Child?

As parents, you need to carefully consider how to correct your child. Being too harsh is a no-no, so is being lenient. So, can you balance positive criticism along with being supportive? Find out!

By Jasmine Kaur  • 10 min read

Is It Okay To Criticise Your Child?

I was only five years old when 9/11 happened. Although the news and visuals of the incident shocked my parents, they decided not to discuss it with me. They thought I was too young to be exposed to such real-life brutal tragedies. However, not everyone shares the same thought. So, the next day, at school, I found out about the ghastly incident.

When I came back home from school, to my parents’ dismay, I reacted in the most inappropriate manner. I narrated, bursting with excitement, how the planes crashed into the towers — with hand gestures and sound effects. I was amazed by the enormity of the event.

Instead of stopping me, my parents allowed me to finish speaking. After that, they made me sit down and asked me why it happened.

I had no answer to their question as I had no idea.

With grave expressions, my parents explained to me that those planes and buildings were full of people, many of whom lost their lives as the planes collided with the buildings. They told me that it was the handiwork of some bad people. After I listened to what they said, I fell silent. I no longer felt excited about the event.

My parents could have yelled at me and told me to shut up to stop me from reacting the way I did. They could have criticised me for not being considerate.

Instead, my parents dealt with the issue in a sensitive manner. Looking back, I feel grateful about the way my parents reacted — they heard me out and made me understand the enormity of the tragedy to help me respond appropriately.

However, not all parents react to their child's mistakes the way my parents did. This brings us to the question, "Is it okay to criticise a child? If yes, then, is it unacceptable to criticise every time the child makes a misstep?"

Before we answer that, let’s try and understand the meaning of criticism.

What it means to criticise?

When we criticise someone, it means that we are judging the individual's action or work after considering the negatives and the positives.

Although we usually perceive criticism to have an undercurrent of negativity associated with it, the expression of disapproval can also be used to fetch positive results, also known as ‘constructive criticism’.

What is constructive criticism?

Constructive criticism is all about giving feedback in such a manner that it helps an individual move forward. The feedback can be about an action, task, behaviour or even, a train of thought.

Mastering the art of constructive criticism

When it comes to criticising your child, keep the following points in mind to lend criticism a constructive voice:

  • Don’t make it sound personal: Your child should get the message that your feedback is all about her behaviour and not about her as an individual. For example, if your child's room is dis-organised, instead of saying, 'You are a messy person,' you could say 'Your room is messy'.
  • Be specific: Convey to your child that your intention isn’t to put him down but to help him improve. For example, saying, 'Use active voice in your writing' tells your child what he should do instead of saying, 'Your writing needs to improve'.
  • Give possible solutions: Help your child improve by suggesting possible solutions. For example, if your child is weak in Maths, saying, 'I think extra Math lessons could help you', works better instead of saying, 'You aren’t good at Maths'.
  • Appreciate the positives: It’s important to notice and point out the positives. For example, your child has finished his Maths homework, but his handwriting needs work. Instead of saying, 'Your handwriting isn’t good', you can say, 'I am really impressed by your Maths solutions, but I think we need to work more on your handwriting'.

What shapes your criticism

When your criticism is motivated by a desire to help your child instead of only pointing out her faults, your approach is likely to be different too. This is because the intention behind the criticism sets the tone of the approach adopted. 

Let's look at an example for better understanding: Your child falls and gets hurt while running. Here's how you may respond:

Response 1: If you are only motivated to point out her faults, you are likely to say: "You never listen to me when I tell you not to run. Look at what you have done to yourself!"

Response 2: If your efforts are targeted at helping your child not repeat the mistake, you would possibly say: "Are you hurt? Now you know why it’s not a great idea to run around recklessly."

While Response 1 is all about pointing out what's wrong with the child, Response 2 is about pointing out the issue with the child’s action.

Your child is more likely to listen to and act on what is told when the criticism is constructive, as shown in Response 2.

When should you delay or avoid criticism?

  1. You or your child get emotional about a situation: For example, you are upset because your child spilled some curry on your favourite pair of trousers, and he is disturbed as well. It’s almost impossible to act rationally when you are irked, and it’s so for your child as well. So, it would be a good idea to wait until both of you calm down enough to talk about what happened.
  2. You and your child are in public: For example, your child throws a tantrum in a supermarket for a toy and you want to reprimand her for it. Criticism in front of others, even when it’s constructive, can make your child feel that she is being singled out. So, wait until you get away from the crowd.
  3. You haven’t talked to your child about what prompted his behaviour: For example, your child takes his sibling’s toy without permission. You think it’s possible that he already knows what he did was wrong. In such a situation, ask your child to think about his action and what he should do the next time he wants the toy. When your child has already learned his lesson, should you criticise him at all?
  4. You aren’t clear what you should criticise your child for or how to do so: For example, your child hits a classmate who was bullying her friend. While you should explain to her that hitting others is not appreciated, you should also admire her instinct to protect others. However, remember to put a plan in place before you begin talking to your child about such situations.
  5. You can explain the situation: Sometimes, your child may behave inappropriately because she hasn’t understood the situation or is unsure what to do. Then, you can correct her by simply explaining things to her clearly.

Constructive criticism creates the opportunity for your child to learn and improve rather than feel put down or judged. It is about being supportive and being there for your child. And naturally, it is also a wonderful way to strengthen the bond your share.

About the author:

Written by Jasmine Kaur on 17 December 2018.

Join our Circles to share, discuss and learn from fellow parents and experts!

Looking for expert tips and interesting articles on parenting? Subscribe now to our magazine. Connect with us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube