Parents, let’s not mistake critical peer criticism for bullying.
This morning my kids were coloring on their new chalk wall. They decided to collaborate and make a seascape. They divided the wall up into three sections so they each had their own place. I watched them collaborate, share ideas, encourage one and other and share sea knowledge. Like at what water levels each creature lives. Amazing.
BUT, as I was doing my daily duty of cleaning the litter box, I over heard my son ask his older brother how his fish looked. My oldest replied very frankly and honestly, “It’s good, but it could be better.”
I ALMOST corrected him. I ALMOST told him to say it in a kinder tone, or to be encouraging. “Say something nice instead,” I often hear myself saying. But I stopped. Because he was right. It was OK. But in reality, my son can do better.
I have struggled all my life with hearing criticism. It paralyzes me.
My home growing up was very critical and we were held to a very high expectation. Education was paramount and a good job was the ultimate goal. My Father had excellent bedside manner at the hospital, but tended to fail at that at home. Probably because he is more of an introvert and when he got home he was tired. (Don’t worry. My Dad was an amazing father and talks openly now about how he should have guided more and pushed less.)
But in light of this, hearing criticism felt paralyzing and I would shut down. I did everything to avoid it.
It has only been recently through my therapy, that I have actually come to really enjoy criticism as well able to handle even overtly rude criticism.
We learn how to handle criticism in two places. At home with our siblings and in school among our peers. I’ve seen so many parents and teachers who automatically correct their children and students when they give healthy criticism to other siblings and students. We fear their feelings being hurt. AND THEY MIGHT. Our kids will feel like their feelings are getting hurt. Because accepting criticism is a skill that actually has to be taught. Giving honest criticism does not.
We need to recognize when our children need to be taught to accept criticism instead of protecting their feelings. Because one day they will fail a class. One day they will have a job with a harsh boss. One day they will have a spouse. If we cannot hear and process criticism correctly we will self sabotage our lives and relationships.
Yes. Pushing a child off a slide is bullying. Yes. Telling another child they are dumb or using racial slurs is bullying.
But saying they don’t like their art, or their math answer is wrong, or their hand writing is messy, or they could build a better Lego ship, or give advice on how to do these things better is healthy criticism. Obviously we need to guide them to speaking with politeness and tact, but we should not stop them.
A boss needs to be able to give criticism in order to run a productive company. A spouse needs to be able to express their feelings and not feel belittled, smothered or rejected. A professor needs to be able to critique his students work in order to lead them to be the best they can be.
I see an entire generation of young adults who cannot take criticism. They can surely dish it! Just read any comments section on Facebook! But when it comes to healthy criticism, they cry, “I’m offended!” It’s not their fault our society can’t take criticism. It’s ours. It starts in our homes. Our world needs to be able to hear, “You can do better,” and not yell back, “I’m offended!” We need to be able to hear, “You can do better,” and reply, “You know… you are right. I probably can.”
We don’t like criticism because it makes us feel vulnerable. But as Brene Brown keeps telling us, vulnerability is paramount to the success of our lives, our marriages, our jobs, our companies and even our political climate. If we cannot be vulnerable in our homes, we will not feel safe and we will walk around the rest of our lives offended over things that should be guiding us towards being our best selves.
I think her Parenting Manifesto is interesting because it declares they will face the hard things together. She doesn’t shirk away from facing criticism. She says, “I will teach you.”
Let’s not shush our children when they give criticism and let’s not coddle the ones who receive healthy criticism. I think most of us struggle with this ourselves and that’s why we have such a hard time with it. But we can’t stifle our children’s potential. Teach them and you too will grow.
Or go through a year of intensive therapy. That works too.