The Lesson I (re)Learned About Critiquing My Child

Just last night, I made a big mistake. My oldest son had worked on a project for a lot of the day and was finally done and ready to head to bed. I took a few minutes to look at his finished work and started making a mental checklist of all the things he needed to correct. I then proceeded, in the nicest manner possible, to point out some of the errors so that he could make his completed assignment even better.

He was devastated.

In my own mind, I was just helping him have a better completed assignment. But, while I was making a mental checklist of the bad, I wasn't making one of the good. And, despite my pleasant manner, I didn't say anything positive. And by the time I recognized how upset he was, adding my words of encouragement and praise didn't matter much anymore. It was one of those times I wondered why God would entrust me with this task of parenthood.

Every parent knows how exceedingly easy it is to be hyper-critical of your own children, but we would rarely speak to another child in this manner. When we are dealing with our children (and our spouses) our sensitivity monitor has usually been turned off. Now here is where the level of my failure really hit me. After some tears, he spoke out the words:

"don't you know that your opinion matters more to me than my teacher's?"

The truth is, I did know that. But his verbalization of this reality hit my heart – I'm still reeling from it as I write this the next morning. In this case, instead of using my influence to build up and encourage, I used that same influence to demotivate and discourage. Thank God that children are so quick to forgive their parents.

I failed yesterday to put into practice what I know in theory. So let me go back in time here and tell you what I should have done, namely, the Correction Sandwich. The Correction Sandwich is pretty simple, and works for pretty much any type of correction or critique:

  1. Start with legitimate praise / encouragement
  2. Issue the critique
  3. Reinforce the praise / encouragement, and emphasize that the criticisms made do not outweigh the good

When looking at my son's work yesterday, I should have been making a mental checklist of everything I appreciated about the work alongside the correction notes. The stuff I liked should have been front and center. He did well on his assignment, so it certainly was not difficult for me to find the praiseworthy portions. Now, when it comes to the critique portion, I personally have a decision to make. My oldest son, like a typical first-born, is already hard on himself. I should have asked him if this was an assignment that needed to also be handed in (it was an assignment for presentation). If it wasn't going to be handed in, then his few minor spelling errors weren't worth mentioning. Another option is I could have said, "I noticed a few small things that could be fixed really quickly. Do you want to know them?" Either way, I should not have led off with my list of corrections. At the end, I should have followed up with some praise once again. Our conversation last night also ended with praise, but it was to a child who was already in the dumps because of me.

Chances are that every parent can relate to this at some level, and I want to encourage you (and remind myself) to be your child's biggest fan. But please don't hear me as saying that you should not critique or correct your children – that is the last thing I'm saying! There are far too many kids/teens/adults who walk around thinking they are better or more important than they actually are. My wife and I are constantly reminding our children that we grow as people by learning from our mistakes. But we always have to point out those mistakes with love, patience, and encouragement. Instead of turning our sensitivity monitor off with our kids, we should be turning it way up because we as parents have the God-given task of forming our children.


photo credit: stephanski via photopin cc
Posted by Danny Zacharias.