Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Criticism of our Kids

Ever go to bed mad at yourself for being too critical of your kid? Ever worry that your kid doesn't respect your advice anymore now that she's sixteen?

What follows is the first of two guest posts about Criticizing our children by Ken Barish, PhD, a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychology, at my alma mater, Cornell's Weill Medical College; a practicing psychologist in Westchester County, and the author of his recently published Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems.

The Harmfulness of Criticism


If I were asked to identify the most common problem presented to me in three decades of therapeutic work with children, adolescents, and families, my answer would be unequivocal: “As parents, we are, unwittingly, too critical of our children.”

This statement has surprised some of my colleagues and is at odds with much of the conventional wisdom about contemporary parents - that we are overprotective or overly indulgent; or that we fail to provide children with needed guidance and limits; or that we are too ready to be our child’s friend, rather than an authority.

Research findings from many studies, however, now provide ample scientific evidence to support my personal experience and this, admittedly, anecdotal claim.

We all know, from our own lives, how criticism feels. We may have experienced the demoralizing effect of frequent criticism in the workplace or in our love relationships. It is surprising, then, how often we fail to consider this in relation to our children.

In many families, parents and children have become locked in vicious cycles of unhealthy family interactions. Criticism and punishment lead to anger and defiance, or secretiveness and withdrawal; and then to more criticism; and then more defiance, and more withdrawal.

As these cycles escalate, parents feel increasingly justified in their criticism and disapproval, and kids, for their part, feel increasingly justified in their resentment and defiance. Parents tell me, “He never listens.” Teenagers tell me, “All I hear is criticism” or “They are always yelling at me.”

Much of our criticism, of course, is well intentioned. We criticize because we are anxious about our child’s future. We want her to improve, and eventually succeed in a competitive world. We think of our criticism as constructive, or not as criticism at all, but rather as instruction and advice, and we regard our child’s defiance or his unwillingness to communicate (especially in adolescence) as an unavoidable consequence of responsible parenting. I disagree.

When frequent criticism persists, all other efforts to improve our family relationships are likely to fail.

The Solution


The solution to the problem of frequent criticism begins with this fundamental fact: Children and adolescents, when they are not angry and discouraged, want to do well. Your children want to earn your praise and approval, and they want you to be proud of them.

There is no better antidote for frequent criticism and argument - and no better way to help children bounce back from the common frustrations and disappointments of childhood - than patient and respectful listening. Listening, of course, does not mean agreement or giving in to unreasonable demands. When we listen, we make a genuine effort to understand and appreciate our child’s point of view and to acknowledge what is right about what he is saying before we point out what is wrong.

I recommend that parents create moments, on a regular basis, that are conducive to this kind of patient listening. It is especially important, in these brief daily conversations, to acknowledge a child’s grievance – what he feels is unfair in his life. We should also acknowledge our own errors and, when appropriate, apologize to our children. We should say, for example, “I feel bad that you were so upset earlier today. I know I was very angry at you. Maybe I got too angry.”

Some parents express concern that, in apologizing to their children, they may implicitly condone their child’s disrespectful or defiant behavior and diminish their authority as parents. This fear is understandable, but unfounded. Your apology does not excuse your child’s bad behavior. To understand your child’s mood is not to indulge his mood; the needs of others always have to be considered.
In my opinion, when a parent offers an apology, he has modeled an important lesson in interpersonal relationships and gains authority with his child, because our children’s acceptance of adult authority is, ultimately, based on respect.

In my next post, I will continue this discussion, and offer additional solutions to the problem of frequent criticism.

Ken Barish, PhD

1 comment:



  1. I and my husband have been having a lot of problem living together, he will always not make me happy because he have fallen in love with another lady outside our relationship, i tried my best to make sure that my husband leave this woman but the more i talk to him the more he makes me feel sad, so my marriage is now leading to divorce because he no longer gives me attention. so with all this pain and agony, i decided to contact this spell caster to see if things can work out between me and my husband again. the spell caster told me what i will do to get my husband back, so he told me that he was going to make all things normal back. he did the spell on my husband and after 5 days my husband changed completely he even apologize with the way he treated me that he was not him self, i really thank this priest his name is Dr KPELEDE he have bring back my husband back to me i want you all to contact him who are having any problem related to marriage issue and relationship problem he will solve it for you. his email email:kpeledesolutiontemple@gmail.com his web sitehttp://kpeledesolutiontemple.webs.com/
    Thanks Dr KPELEDE for helping me get my Lover back and put smile on my face forever .(kpeledesolutiontemple@gmail.com)

    ReplyDelete