Being Hyper-Critical of the Child’s Mistakes: Why Criticism Won’t Work, And What to Do Instead

What makes parenting so hard is that we don’t always see the consequences of what we do immediately. Getting it right can look as identical as getting it wrong, and other times it can masquerade as another.

Along the way, we’ll make a lot of mistakes. We’ll talk when we should stay quiet; we remain silent when we should say plenty. We get too distracted, too busy, and too exhausted. We often call it so right and usually get it all wrong. As long as these mistakes are balanced with enough love, connection, warmth, and presence, the mistakes we make won’t break them. Sometimes though, our actions as parents can have long-lasting consequences that we don’t see coming – even when we do them with loving intent.

Words are powerful and may either light up our children from inside out, or they can land like little spears and hurt them. When criticism happens too often, those little spears will find their way deep into their core. Persistent criticism breeds resentment and defiance and undermines a child’s initiative, self-confidence, and a sense of purpose. We need to avoid the buildup of these unhealthy attitudes in the minds of our children.

When our children make mistakes, here’s what we can do instead:

  • Focus on the good, not their deficiencies. For all children, the first message about how the world sees them comes from their parents. When these messages are presented with compassion and warmth and focus on the child’s potential rather than their deficiencies, children will be more likely to approach the world with a sense of belonging, self-respect, and importance.

This doesn’t mean that we always lift them over their mistakes and are out of the way of the discomfort. It’s important to let them know when their behavior could change with some tweaking. Sometimes they will need to redirect towards a healthier way of being.

Example. “I know it can be hard, to tell the truth sometimes, especially when you’re worried about getting into trouble, but I know that you are honest and that you’ll make the right decision. You’re great like that. Now, can we talk about what happened?”

  • Don’t take their behavior personally. When they’re rude, moody, lash out, or push against our boundaries, what does it mean? It means they’re normal. It means we’re raising tiny humans into big ones and giving them space to do it their way, make mistakes they need to make, and learn the lessons they need to know. It means that they aren’t perfect and that they are trying.
  • Accept that we will make mistakes too. We’re human, and being parents doesn’t make us infallible. We will get exhausted, distracted, frustrated, and sometimes we’ll say the wrong thing. Our children won’t break if we get it wrong sometimes. We’re their heroes, and seeing us get it wrong sometimes gives them the permission to do so. What’s important is when we make a mistake, we name it, own it, and apologize. 

It seems necessary to ask, “Why are we critical of our children so often?” We all know, from our own lives, how criticism feels. We may have experienced the demoralizing effect of frequent complaints in the workplace, or we may have suffered the eroding impact of frequent criticism on satisfaction in our love relationships. Then, it is surprising how often we fail to consider this about our children. 

It’s essential to remember that when our children commit mistakes, we need to respond with compassion and warmth and make it about their behavior and not who they are. There will be times we need to call their behavior into question and give them what they need to learn and grow. Still, this must be done so that it doesn’t cause them to question their inherent worth and inherent goodness. Criticism might work better in the short term, but building strong, healthy, happy humans takes time, and there are no shortcuts.