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How to criticize children the right way

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Once in a while you have to criticize children, because they do not always know what is allowed and what is not. And sometimes they forget. And sometimes they are testing their borders. And because they are children.

You can criticize children in two ways. There is a good one and a bad one. I start with the bad one, which is very common, unfortunately. I am going to ask you a short and simple question. I want you to think about it. I want you to be aware of your first thought. Maybe you think it is childish, but it is not. I want to bring you deeper into human emotions and a better social behavior. I want to bring you to the feeling level.

So you have to go with me in this thought. Here we go:

Do you like to be hurt?

I know for sure your answer is no. Why do I know this. I know this, because it is a universal thing. Nobody likes to be hurt. Including your neighbor, your friends and children. Unless you are from a different planet, you do not like to be hurt.

If you got my point, we are going to the next level. Look into a mirror and say the bold sentence to you yourself. Or let someone else say it to you. Suppose you did something wrong. Then you hear this:

"You are stupid!" (say it loud).

Does this hurt or irritates you? Yes it does. You know it is not the real thing, but it still gives you a bad feeling. It hurts, because it is personal. It is an attack on your self esteem.

Well, many children experience this or similar things, on a daily basis. It hurts everybody. It doesn't always show, but it does hurt. Always. To anybody. So including children.

There is no such thing as a certain age when personal attacks, especially from parents, starts to hurt. It is not an adult thing only. As soon as children start to understand words, somewhere around  2-3 years old, they can be hurt by the wrong criticism.

From nature children are balanced and strong minded. A remark like "You are stupid" does not ruin their self esteem. But there will be a small dent.

But if personal attacks does happen often, there will be more dents and their self esteem starts to drop. In other words, children will slowly start doubting themselves. It is because of many personal attacks on their self esteem. They have resistance for this, but even the strongest defense system can be brought down. In other words, insecurity has started now.

Personal attacks from parents have a stronger influence on children as from others. This is because of the strong dependency, trust and example situation. When a teacher says you did something wrong, you believe him. Well, parents are teachers.

When born, children do not know anything. They have to learn a lot and the most important persons are the parents. They are everything for children. They trust them and they have to, because they are depending on parents. Parents are examples for them, teachers and protectors. And they believe parents.

What do you think will happen to a young child who often hears it is stupid? The child will slowly start believing it.

So one day the child starts to get this thought once in a while:

"Am I stupid?" 

This is the start of doubting themselves. Has the child more of these experiences, then it will be:

"Yes I am stupid."

It has been said so often by people who they completely trust, so it must be true. BWAM, low self esteem is born. How much damage, depends on how strong and long the personal attacks have lasted. There are more wrong influences, but calling (your) children very often stupid, dumb or similar, will influence their balance. Some have no self esteem left at all. And the level of self esteem will stay with the later adult. Do you want that?

I am not saying you cannot criticize children. You can and you have to once in a while. But there is a correct way of criticizing children. How does this feel after you made a mistake:

"You did something stupid."

Also not nice to hear and maybe you feel guilty. But it doesn't hurt. Because it is not personal. It is criticizing the act, not the person. So it is completely different.  You could use this, if something is done on purpose or by being careless. But is most cases you can use the softer version of criticizing a child. You could say:

"That was not very clever."

Most children do not want to cause problems and if something happens by accident, they already feel guilty. With soft criticism they feel a bit more guilty and this will increase the possibility the child will not do it again. But their self esteem is not damaged. Because the act is criticized and not the person. So, no harm is done.

You have to criticize children if there is a need for it, because otherwise they will start to think they can do whatever they want.

If there is a need for criticizing, think first how you criticize. Use the hard version, "you did something stupid" or the soft version, "that was not very clever." But never the wrong version, "you are stupid."

Don't forget, I don't know you. I have never seen you and I have no idea what or who you are. But I know how certain things work. If something hurts me, it will hurt you and it will hurt (your) children. So think before you say something and how you say it. I assume you do not want to damage your children. Or other people.