Healthy Criticism

How do I teach healthy criticism?

Question

I often overhear my two daughters criticizing other people. I think they’re picking it up from other kids at school, but I want them to see the positive instead of the negative in other people. Any suggestions?

Answer

According to Webster’s dictionary being critical can mean anything from “inclined to criticize severely and unfavorably” to “exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation.” The word criticism has a wide range of meanings from something that can be cruel and destructive to something that can actually be up-building and constructive.

In other words, there is a big difference between thoughtfully and prayerfully giving constructive criticism and having a critical spirit. Sometimes, in the words of Proverbs 1:3, giving “instruction in discipline, good conduct and doing what is right” involves saying things that have a critical element. The heart of constructive criticism is to build up, strengthen and encourage. Proverbs 25:12 says that, “Valid criticism is as treasured by the one who heeds it as jewelry made from finest gold.” I wouldn’t be near the husband or father I am today if my wife hadn’t had the love, thoughtfulness and courage to let me know when I was saying and doing things in ways that weren’t helpful.

The sad news is that there is way too much sarcasm, cynicism and criticism in our society and this is especially true in the middle school and high school culture. Much of what our kids hear and see and experience on the campus and in the media involves putting other people down and since negativity breeds more negativity it’s easy for this to become a habit.

There is an old Native American proverb that says anyone who grabs a cactus to throw at another person ends up with cactus needles in their own hand. When someone allows themselves to move from one who periodically makes a critical remark to becoming a critical person they become the biggest loser. There are all kinds of spiritual and psychological explanations for this tendency but the bottom line is that it is not only destructive to the one being criticized but it is also destructive to the one doing the criticism and that’s the reality the chronically critical people tend to miss.

The most powerful way to help you daughters see the positive in others is for them to catch a lethal dose of seeing it modeled in your interactions with them and with others.

You can start by asking yourself a few questions: What do I model to them during the day? Am I critical of myself, my marriage, my kids, my job, my church or pastor? Am I more critical with them when they are more critical about others? Am I quick to praise, compliment and encourage?

We would also encourage you to do a study of what the Bible has to say about the tongue and the power of our words and then prayerfully consider what might be good to share with your daughters. For example. Proverbs 13:3 tells us that, “Those who control their tongue will have a long life.” Proverbs 15:28 says that “the godly think before speaking; the wicked spout evil words.” In James 3:1-12 we are given some great wisdom on the tongue and in verse three we’re warned that, “The tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do.”

After asking yourself these questions here are some that would be good for you to ask your daughters: How do you feel when I criticize you? How do you feel when you are criticized, mocked, put down and made fun of? When you are critical and putting others down what do you feel in your spirit? Do you feel more happy and positive or do you feel more depressed and drained? Who are two or three of your most negative and critical friends? Is it fun being around them? Do you feel better about yourselves and others after listening to them? What would it be like to know that people are talking about you the same way you are talking about them?

One of the easiest ways to help them begin to turn a corner is for you to find creative ways to become a Barnabus to them. In the book of Acts we’re told that Barnabus was a nickname that means “son of encouragement.” You can become a “daughter of encouragement” to your daughters by looking for opportunities to encourage them. Ask God to help you notice them times they get it right. Watch for things they do well, look for acts of kindness and listen for words of affirmation and then acknowledge it. In other words, catch them being healthy and then acknowledge it with an observation or compliment.

You might also pray with them that God might help your family become a “Barnabus” family. They might think that’s a bit corny but everyone needs, values and responds to encouragement and legitimate praise. We’ve worked with many parents who invested five to ten minutes in the morning before school reading a few verses from the book of Proverbs and then picking one principle to prayerfully apply during the day. Sometimes kids, including ours, will grunt and groan when we initiate this but if you keep it short it can be a great way to help them experience the relevance and practicality of God’s word to everyday life, especially in our interactions with others.

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