Creative Child

Why Constructive Criticism May Benefit Children More than Praise

by Deborah Song

Providing constructive criticism to kids is hard. Perhaps you can relate to the challenges I face as a parent. My oldest is a traditional firstborn: a rule-follower and perfectionist who takes negative feedback like a gut punch in the stomach. In fact, she is so hard on herself that I often find it excruciatingly painful to provide any feedback that isn’t positive. My second and youngest is a feisty, naturally confident strong-willed child who often cuts my feedback short by telling me, “I already know this, mom.”

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Hurdles like this coupled with my maternal instincts to want to see my children happy, make it very tempting to forego constructive criticism altogether and heap praise on them instead. It’s much more pleasant, after all, to see my kids smile than pout.

But praise is a cheap dopamine shot at best – the same kind of dopamine we experience when we receive social media likes. They are short-lived, and like any cheap drug, we build a tolerance to the chemical boost. To achieve the same high, we will need double the likes, double the compliments.

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Truth is, no matter what your child’s personality profile is, nobody enjoys constructive criticism. “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism,” says Norman Vincent Peal, in his book, The Power of Positive Thinking.  Learning to accept criticism takes practice. I’m sure you know a few grownups, perhaps at work or even in your family, who have never learned to take constructive criticism. They make any form of honest communication difficult.  But if you can teach your kid how to channel improvement feedback (I prefer this term to negative feedback) in a healthy and productive way, he will be way ahead of the game of life. Here are five reasons why constructive feedback can behoove your child in ways that praise could never.

1. Constructive feedback prevents complacency.  Feedback that isn’t personal and points you towards improvement moves you to act. In this way, constructive criticism can motivate and nip complacency in the bud. The most successful and innovative companies never rest on their laurels but are constantly asking how they can do things better. That’s because they don’t rest on prior achievement to validate their worth.

The reverse, then, is also true: excessive praise weakens motivation. Excessive compliments take away from our original motivation of simply enjoying an activity because the dopamine shot I previously referred to is quite compelling. Our impressionable egos begin to pursue an activity purely for the sake of praise. Enough time spent receiving this praise means we become enslaved to it. And soon, without the expectation of praise, our motivation can begin to dwindle.

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