No one likes to be criticized—not employees, not acquaintances, and certainly not our children. So why are parents and teachers so generous with our criticism? Have you been in the habit of saying nothing as long as the children are decently behaved, but releasing every possible variation on “you know better than that” the second someone puts so much as a big toe over the line? Or, worse, of taking one look at a 18/20 score on a spelling test and proceeding to re-teach the correct spelling of the two misspelled words?
It’s a terrible thing to grow up in a household, a school system, or a society that tolerates no error. Not only because it makes children miserable and stunts their self-esteem; not only because it discourages their exploration and inventiveness; but also because it actually teaches them to make more mistakes. Think about it. We all learn through duration, frequency, and intensity—hearing things repeated over and over again in a way that touches our emotions. So what do we expect children to learn when subjected to a continual stream of “Don’t do this—don’t do that—won’t you ever learn?!”
Maybe it’s our perfectionism-obsessed society that never learns. Ever since public schooling became standard, kids have come home with spelling test results and been greeted by parents who can’t wait to see which words the children missed, and to start teaching them (again!) how to spell those words. No further mention of the 18 out of 20 that were spelled right.
The truth is, most of us suffer from the fear that something terrible will happen if we get the smallest thing wrong—and when what we’re trying to do “right” includes parenting, we judge our success by the children’s behavior and achievements. When we tell ourselves that we’d be doing the kid a grave disservice if we didn’t point out all the ways he or she can improve, we’re really trying to use the child to prove our own immunity to imperfection.
Are you brave enough to give both yourself and your child a chance to improve through a different approach to duration, frequency, and intensity? Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is: choose one or two specific areas where you would like to see your child improve; and define—in detail—the new habit you want the child to learn. Not what you want them to stop or avoid doing, but what you want them to do instead. Then, for the next two weeks, respond with an encouraging word every time they make even a small move in that direction. Even if they get an F on a test, mention the right answers and let the wrong ones pass without comment.
Sounds crazy? All I know is, I’ve talked with hundreds of families who have accepted this challenge; and they agree the results are AMAZING! Once your two weeks are up, you’ll never want to return to criticizing.