How to Use Praise and Criticism Constructively

2 year(s) ago
How to Use Praise and Criticism Constructively

Me and a few colleagues were chatting during lunchtime and talk veered to how we remember the smallest and silliest things that someone had said to us when we were small children. For one friend it was a comment her teacher made during annual day rehearsals, for another it was something his father said about his school performance, for me it was how my parents went for a morning excursion without waking me up and me finding myself alone for a few moments on a Sunday morning (and feeling totally abandoned!). We could now narrate those incidents very casually, but at that time all of us were deeply affected by what was said or done to us.

Today's generation of parents is a lot more sensitive to the thoughts and emotions of their child. The very fact that you are reading this blog implies you want to be a better parent, or are aware that these things matter in child-rearing.

During the course of a single day we praise and criticize our child several times, try keeping a track some time and you will be astounded by the amount. During the initial few years it is the parents and other family members who constitute the whole world of the child. Naturally the way we offer praise and criticism plays a crucial role in shaping the attitude, personality, and self-image of a child.

You might think this holds true for criticism; but any kind of praise should be good. What harm can come out of praise? Well, too much of a good thing can also be harmful.

When we praise we use a lot of evaluative phrases like, Good girl, You are smart, You are awesome, You are the best dancer/singer, etc. You might say, that's how you praise and encourage a child. True. But here's how you can do it in such a way that it adds to your child's self-belief and confidence.

How to Evaluate?

Instead of evaluating, describe what you see, sense or hear. Here are some examples:

Evaluation: "A perfect report card. You are a genius. I am so proud of you."

Description: "The A's show determination and hours of hard work. You must be proud of yourself. So am I."

Evaluation: "Doing your homework? Good girl."

Description: "It takes self-discipline and determination to do your homework when you are tired. I like this quality of yours."

Evaluation: "You are a wonderful artist."

Description: "I can see a bright sun, blue sky and colourful butterflies."

Now coming to constructive criticism. Most often we attack the child's character implying that she is intrinsically bad or make her ashamed of her feelings.

Separate the Behavior from the Child

So, instead of labelling the child (lazy, duffer) or attacking her character (bad girl), focus on the behavior.

Instead of "Bad girl, how dare you speak to me/your grandmother this way?"

Say "That kind of language is not OK."

Instead of pointing out what's wrong, describe what's right and what still needs to be done.

Instead of "Look at you! Your hair is a mess, you still haven't put on your shoes, hurry up or you will be late for school."

Say "You are almost dressed. Clean uniform, tie, belt and socks. All that is left is shoes and hair, and you are ready to go."

Instead of "You still haven't done the last two problems! Such a slow poke. At this rate you will never finish."

Say "You are more than halfway through! Three problems done and two more to go."

Some might say that our parents never gave so much thought to what they said or did to us. Still we turned out to be normal well-adjusted adults. I agree. But don't we all want to be the "perfect parents"? While a perfect parent is a myth, if we can incorporate a new way of using praise and criticism we can certainly be better parents to our children.

Click on the link to watch a video on key to successful parenting.

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Manjiri Gokhale
Manjiri has a masters in clinical psychology from Mumbai University. She has been practicing with the Institute for Psychological Health (IPH) since the last 12 years. Manjiri is a practicing academic and has taught students at the undergraduate level. She has written research papers and her clinical work includes psychometric testing, counselling and designing workshops for normal children as well as those with special needs. She has 2 daughters, a 6 year old and an 8 month old!

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