Seven Steps to Criticize Your Kids

By: Ron Huxley, LMFT

How do you give your child feedback without sound mean or nasty? How do you tell them how to improve without them getting defensive or angry? Is it possible to criticize your child in a constructive manner? There is such a way and it is not a secret. Most parents learned how to parent from their own parents. And what they learned about communicating to children was probably inadequate. No fault of our parents really, they just passed on what they learned to us.

So now it is time to break the chain of improper feedback. Here are some quick steps to criticizing your children and have them thank you for it (well, at least they won't all mutiny on you!)

Step one. Describe what you see to be the problem without attacking the child, judging him, or moralizing. This will turn your child off, if not away from you, for sure. Get on the right foot with your child.

Step two. Make your feedback as specific and concrete as possible. Generalities don't give any clear direction how to correct the problem and can quickly become a personality issue.

Step three. Give feedback when the child is most ready to hear it. Look for the best time (there usually is no perfect time) to talk to your child. Is he a morning or evening person? Should you give feedback during his favorite television show or after? Should you wait days or hours before you tell him or should you try to deliver it as soon as possible?

Step four. Check out if your child understands what you are saying. Ask them to repeat what they heard you say to decide if they are right on or way off base. If they got it wrong ("You want the leaves picked up in the front lawn only") or read into it a personal attack ("You HATE the way I racked the leaves") don't react, just repeat it again. If you did say "hate" or the "front lawn" by mistake, then correct yourself and say it over.

Step five. Give feedback in small doses. Too much information or detail will overwhelm the child and gain no cooperation.

Step six. Use "I" statements at the beginning of each criticism. Instead of saying, "You didn't come home when you were suppose to" try "I was worried about you when you didn't come home when asked." Although both are correct, the second example is less likely to get a defensive reaction.

Step seven. If your child still feels that you are being mean, cruel, or unreasonable, ask for a neutral person to give you feedback. Accept their constructive criticism and change accordingly. You could ask them to read the first six steps before hand.

Ron Huxley is the author of Love & Limits: Achieving a Balance in Parenting and the editor of

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