by Milena Cuk
Life and Assertiveness Coach
Integrative Art Psychotherapist-in-training
As parents, we have a duty to prepare our children to live independently in a world where they will interact with many different types of people. To prepare them for adulthood, we must recognize the importance of providing them feedback, both positive and negative (corrective). Positive feedback, such as giving compliments, expressing affection, and acknowledging your children’s efforts and successful performances, is important in building their confidence, in helping them learn new skills and in maintaining a close and open relationship with them. Giving constructive, negative feedback is important too, in learning new skills, in learning to respect boundaries and the needs of other people. Feedback is essential for self-improvement and for the personal growth of your children.
If you have a teenager at home, you may feel frustrated or worried when faced with certain changes in his/her behavior. The transition from childhood to adulthood is a sensitive and tempestuous period of life marked with questions of self-identity, first heartbreaks, a strong need for peer approval, exploring sexuality, etc. It is a period of discovering new aspects of reality. Sometimes, these aspects include alcohol, drugs, and rebellion against authority. These can all lead to a decreasing interest in education, and, in the worst-case scenario, risky behavior or trouble with authority figures. Parents fear adolescence. As parents, you are aware that your teen must go through the process of discovering the world of adults, but you do not want him to get lost. And often, you do not know what to tell him and how to approach his questions, in order to give him enough freedom, but, at the same time, to protect him from harm.
Luckily, there are guiding principles for providing feedback that motivates. In this article, we have gathered our experience from our coaching practice to explain these essential principles and to give parents some examples of how to use them. In our practice, we encounter common dilemmas that we hear from parents and stories of difficulties that many teens face. We have found that these principles are universal and can be applied regardless of the age of your children.
From the start, you should constantly consider the demands you make of your children, and make sure that they are realistic. Sometimes, even the best-intentioned parents are too demanding, asking that their children keep tidy rooms, the best test scores in their schools, the best results on their sports teams, and that they always do what their parents ask. Don’t forget that perfection is the enemy of good. Also, teenage rebellion against social norms and authority is normal, and a phase of their development. You should not ignore the boundaries they push, but HOW you react is important. On the other hand, some parents are overprotective or overindulgent, which causes their children, when they grow up, to have difficulties coping with life’s challenges.
The demands our children face are constantly changing, with their ages, their temperaments, their capacities, and with the changes society experiences as time progresses. Our children today face different challenges, with peers, social trends, in their schools and communities, more than we did. We should try our hardest to acknowledge this.
Show positive attention
In our coaching practice, we see so often that parents are too busy in their lives to spend enough quality time with their children. At the same time, they still demand that their child “become somebody and something one day.” In their frustration, they focus their communication with their children solely on criticizing their “bad” behavior. Sometimes, parents’ fears about their children’s bad behavior are self-fulfilling. The child, receiving ever-increasing amounts of criticism, reacts with even more “inappropriate” behavior in a quest to seek attention from the parents (“look at me!”) even if all he will get is negative attention, in the form of criticism and punishment. Sometimes, they see negative attention as better than no attention at all.
Children need to be loved and accepted by their parents. It is important to show them a “daily dose” of smiles, warm eye contact, and physical contact, such as touches and hugs. Children need their parents to listen to them and take an interest in their lives. Children need compliments and praise too. In our busy lives, feelings of love and affection between family members often go unspoken. “I love you”, “I am so happy to have you as my daughter/son”, “I like you the way you are”, “I believe in you!” – are strong messages that build the foundation of your child’s stability, self-confidence, and trust. These messages need to be heard over and over.
When you praise your children, focus on the positive, and be honest. Remember the old saying that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” You can always find something good and beautiful in another person, whether this relates to that person’s appearance, a certain behavior they exhibit or an accomplishment they achieved.
Be specific when offering praise.
Consider these examples: “Oh, I really like the colors you picked for your outfit. They’re so creative!”; “Good job preparing a dinner without even being asked!”; “Good point” – for the opinion they’ve just expressed. “I really liked how you cleaned your room!”; “I really liked the way you helped your younger brother; I am proud of you.”
Offer praise not only for a good performance but also the effort your child has invested. Encourage the journey, not just the destination. “You worked really hard on that paper.”; “You’re doing great, just keep moving!”; “You are almost there!”; “You will make it!”
Even though it’s important to be specific when praising behavior, don’t forget to praise your child’s personality and their positive traits. This praise will strengthen your child’s self-confidence and encourage a healthy self-image. For example: “You are a wonderful person!”; “You are so smart!”; “You are beautiful!”; “You are very capable!”; “You are so kind!”
Offer compliments, but make sure they’re genuine and sincere
Compliments need to come from your heart. They have to be genuine and offered sincerely. If not, they lose their power.
Unrealistic compliments can harm your children. They can lead to unattainable goals and distort their self-image. It’s best to avoid messages like: “You are the smartest boy ever!”; or “You are the most beautiful girl in the world!”
When providing negative feedback, never criticize a child’s personality
Messages like these never help. They are always harmful: “You jerk”; “You are crazy”; “You are bad”; “You are so clumsy”; “You are a liar!”, etc. Negative feedback should be designed so that it promotes change and improvement. If you label your child as a bad person, he may begin to think that this is a permanent condition. Offering feedback like this does not help your child learn what he needs to change in order to better himself.
Negative feedback: Focus on the behavior
Constructive feedback should always serve as a call for changing some concrete behavior.
“It bothers me when you are late.”
“Your music is too loud. Please, turn down the volume.”
“Please, go back to the dinner table and push your chair in.”
We should point out what concrete behavior bothers us, and make it clear how it is unacceptable.
Avoid unrealistic comments like: “You are always late”; “You never do your homework on time”; “You never do what I ask of you”, etc.
Deliver praise publicly; deliver constructive feedback privately
When giving corrective feedback to children, regardless of age, you should catch them alone. Most people feel humiliated when they are criticized in front of others. Negative feedback should not make somebody feel guilty or ashamed. Instead, this feedback should help your child become aware of his own behavior, correct it and learn.
Don’t take it personally
Parents sometimes feel offended or upset, when one of their ground rules is broken, or if inappropriate behavior is repeated, or can cause harm. This happens even more frequently with teens when they exhibit their rebellious or risky behavior. Parents sometimes see teens’ behavior as reckless and disrespectful, and something that needs to be punished. And this is sometimes true. However, this behavior can occur for several reasons, such as strong inner conflicts and pain, insecurity or peer pressure.
In these cases, it is important to keep communication open in order to understand what is going on in your teen’s head and heart. Always remember to stay calm and consistent in your discussions with your child.
Different forms of corrective feedback
What is the best way to provide corrective feedback? This depends on many factors. Delivering corrective feedback is a skill that you can practice. The most important thing to remember is that you follow the principles stated above. Here are examples of corrective feedback offered correctly:
“We know that you don’t like bringing the garbage out and would rather do something else, but we’ve made a deal, and we need you to take it outside.”
“I feel angry and frustrated when the bathroom is not cleaned after you bathe, even after you promised to do it. We have a rule that everybody cleans up after them and I would like it to be respected. I always try to do what I promise and I would appreciate if you do the same. What do you think?”
“Gosh, you were really good during the game. You were so focused, fast, and catching the ball really well. It seemed, though, at the end that you were out of breath. Maybe you should focus more on practicing breathing and endurance? What do you think?”
“When you don’t come home when you said would and you don’t call us, I get worried that you’re in trouble. Please, don’t let it happen again, OK?”
“You know how proud daddy and I are of you. You are a smart girl who’s always done so well in school; so, we find these lower grades surprising. Is there something going on that’s bothering you, and keeping you from studying? What’s going on, honey?”
“You know that this behavior is unacceptable (for instance, your son took money from your wallet without asking). Since you were little, we’ve taught you about honesty. What happened this time?” In general, it is good to keep the conversation open to hearing your child’s side of the story and to understand why your child broke the rule. For instance: “What made you do this?”; “Do you have some thoughts to share with us?”; “Help us understand.”
As parents, it is easier to evaluate your rules or determine appropriate consequences when you understand the entire situation.
Balance negative feedback with positive feedback
Do you give more positive feedback or negative feedback? Delivering more positive feedback is recommended by the experts. Positive feedback is more powerful, and it helps build healthy relationships.
In the end, don’t forget to praise yourself – for everything you do for your children. You also deserve praise for your efforts in working on your parenting skills. That’s why you’re here, right?
If you have trouble communicating with your child and you don’t know what to do, don’t hesitate to call us today!