As a teacher, I have heard that it is easy for adults to give general praise, yet specific criticism. For example, when grading a paper, a teacher might write “Great job!” at the top, but then be very specific by circling and underlining things that they should change or improve. While we need to show children what they need to work on, this can also become a frame of mind that focuses more on the negative rather than how children can grow. As a parent, I feel like it’s so easy to criticize specifically, but it’s something I definitely want to change.
“Great job at your swim meet!” is a general comment that is affirming, but that I could say anytime. However, a few hours later, I might tell my son all ten different parts of his room that are messy, and how and why they need to be cleaned up in a fairly critical and specific way. I still want my son to clean his room, but I could ask him to do it more positively. I can remind him how good his room looked last time he cleaned it, and let him know it’s time to do it again today. I can also remind him it needs to be finished before his friends come over!
I am challenging myself to be specifically encouraging about what my kids are doing well. I want them to know that I am paying attention to how they are succeeding, not just the things they can improve.
“I loved the way you swam so quickly at the end of your race and didn’t give up!”
“Thank you for being so kind and sharing one of your favorite toys with your brother.”
“I’m proud of you for making good choices with your friends at the ballgame.”
“Look at how hard you worked on your book report! The vocabulary you used is excellent.”
In thinking about this, I started thinking about what a difference it would make if I applied this to my adult relationships too! Whether it’s marriage, friendships, or other family relationships, saying specific things that you appreciate about people can make huge difference.
It’s so easy to focus on what needs to be fixed, and I believe it is important to strive to improve. Children should be able to hear constructive criticism. However, when this is done more from a perspective of encouragement, children can hear it in a better perspective.