When we tell our child "don't be shy", we are actually being critical of our child. When we are critical of our child, we are only hurting them.
Science and history show us that criticism causes (1) resentment in our child (2) aggression in our child and (3) our child to engage in the exact behavior we criticize when we are not around.
Our goal for our child's behavior
As parents, we are aiming to raise our children to make good decisions when we are not around.
Does criticism accomplish this? Not at all.
How criticism affects our child's behavior
We are likely using criticism as a tool to change their perceived "wrong" behavior.
Yet criticism in absolutely no way encourages our child to change permanently his or her behavior in a good way.
“By criticizing, we do not make lasting changes and often incur resentment.”
While criticism may alter behavior in the immediate present, it can lead our child to engage in that exact behavior we criticize when we are not around.
In short, criticism is not a tool to use to make your child better in any way and it can, in fact, encourage your child to engage in inappropriate behavior.
Examples of criticism
Criticism is when we judge and express disapproval of another's behavior.
For example, "don't be shy", "don't be mean", "you are too sensitive", "don't chew with your mouth open", "don't stand that way", "don't forget your homework again", "you're lazy", etc.
History shows us that criticism creates only negative outcomes
Criticism and the mess it creates are not a novel concept. Examples of criticism's sour accomplishments are found throughout humanity. Below, we highlight some examples from ancient human civilization, Jesus, the world famous author John Milton, and a contemporary political situation to show that criticism results in negative consequences for all involved.
Criticism destroys the relationship for everyone involved.
An ancient myth tells of villagers being critical of a woman and her children. The woman had an affair and the children were born out of wedlock. When the villagers saw her, they yell insults at her, judge her actions as deplorable and forbade her and her children to drink from their waters.
The outcome? The woman (who was actually a goddess) is hurt by this criticism - the hurling of insults coming from the villagers - and in turn, she curses the villagers and turns some of them into frogs.
Then the frogs are jumping in and out of the village water supply and mudding the waters so now the villagers themselves (well now some of them are frogs) cannot drink from the water nor can the woman and her children.
Judging, being critical of others => counter judging. Criticism does not change behavior in a good way.
Stories from later in civilization, in the first century of A.D., warn of criticism too.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew writes of Jesus' teachings:
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1–2).
Jesus, according to Matthew, is telling us that judging - criticizing others behaviors - results only in a series of judging.
John Milton in the 1600s
People who are critical => are being fools. Criticism wastes life.
John Milton, the world famous poet, wrote a poem about criticism and judging in the 1600s. In this poem, he references the ancient myth of Latona and the Sermon on the Mount.
Why are those who are critical, stupid? These people are stupid because the only thing being critical accomplishes is "mudding the waters of everyone".
When we are critical => we are acting as a dictator => we are leading our child to resent us and rebel against us.
John MIlton writes of these foolish people:
"Licence they mean when they cry liberty" (Sonnet XII, line 11)
MIlton is showing that when we are critical, when we judge others' behaviors, we are wanting others to conform to our personal rules and values. We are not letting others be free to choose their own path.
Similarly, when we criticize our child, we are essentially being a dictator - telling him how the world should be and not giving him the liberty to change his own behavior. We are seeking to have our child conform to our value systems. The result? When we are critical, our child feels trapped and instead of modifying his behavior from internal motivations, which is our long term goal for them as parents, he acts in rebellion and resentment.
Instead of building up our child, criticism causes (1) resentment and (2) reinforces undesired behavior.
A very public, contemporary political example of how criticism accomplishes the exact opposite of a desired goal is when Secretary Clinton criticized President Trump’s supporters as “deplorables”. We all know what that accomplished…
Secretary Clinton judged millions of Americans. She tried to use criticism to win an election. What happened instead? Those who were judged felt resentment and unified, turning out in greater numbers than ever anticipated and elected her opponent to the Presidency. While millions of Americans are very happy with this outcome, we bet Secretary Clinton is not.
When we criticize our children, we are not hoping to build resentment within them, but that is exactly what it does.
History is full of stories showing how those who are critical end up hurting themselves and others and not accomplishing anything positive. Yet, we still engage in it because it is an easy option. It takes self-control to react to behavior in a positive way.
4 Tips To Change Behavior
1. Reward and reinforce good behavior
- Instead of:
- "don't be mean" try "when you are nice to your sister, it makes her so happy"
- "don't throw your food" try praising desired behavior => "YAY!!! You put your food back on the table."
- Use I statements.
- Instead of "don't whine" try "When I hear whining, I get frustrated. I like to help people when they do not whine and use nice voices."
- Role play, practicing behaviors.
- i.e. if your child is shy, try role playing and showing ways he can not be shy. When your child acts not shy, praise him.
2. Accept that children will be children. Let them have the freedom to be age appropriate.
- From the famous poem Father Forgets, W. Livingston Larned writes in 1927 of how deeply he regrets being critical of his son that day:
“At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table... The habit of finding fault, or reprimanding; this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you: it was that I expected too much of you. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years... And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character.... I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, Son, crumpled and weary in your bed. I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother's arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much! "
3. Remind yourself: It is NOT easy to not be critical. It takes daily practice and awareness.
- When faced with a situation in which you would normally be impulsively critical, try taking a few deep breaths. Then try to react in a non-critical manner.
- Try putting a sticky note about criticism on your bathroom mirror that reminds you to be aware of being critical.
4. Try to understand your child's perspective. This also leads to developing empathy.
Dale Carnegie writes,
“Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy tolerance and kindness.”
Remember that no one is perfect - we will all be critical at times. We get tired. We forget. What's important? Our intention to be better. In the revered Benjamin Franklin's words:
“On the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been, had I not attempted it.”