Helping our kids succeed

By Kathy Kuhl. Part 4 of a series, from her upcoming book, Encouraging Your Child.

How can we encourage our kids while we correct them? We can’t pretend everything they do is wonderful. (“Great job breaking the dishes, Joey!” “Way to make your little brother mad, Karina!”) To end this four-part series on how encourage our children, let’s look at the role of correction and criticism.

[Remember, in earlier posts, we looked at what to praise (effort, perseverance, success, and progress) and last time I explained how to praise: specifically and briefly.]

To begin, let’s define criticism and correction. Criticism can mean careful analysis of the good and bad aspects of literature, music, and other arts—like film critics do. But the most common definition is “the act of expressing disapproval.” (Source: So we want to be critical (discerning our children’s good and bad qualities) but not always critical (expressing disapproval).

Notice I’m not saying never to disapprove. Consider the chilling words on parenting from the Bible’s account of the life of King David. As his fourth son, Adonijah, plotted a coup to disrupt David’s plan for Solomon to be the next king, the writer tells us something important about Adonijah and his father, David. “His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, ‘Why have you done thus and so?’” (I Kings 1:6.) If we are unwilling to displease our kids, we are headed for disaster.

Correction, on the other hand, can be either a change to make something right or the act of making that change, says Merriam-Webster.

Why do we correct? To help our children improve. As Dr. Kathy Koch says, “when they’re stuck, wrong, or confused… [correction] can encourage them because then they know what to do differently next time…. That’s why we need to be specific so they know what to keep doing and what to change.”1

Correction to encourage

When we do correct, we should correct in ways that show we respect our children’s worth. When we ask “Why can’t you clear your place when you finish eating?”, we imply that our kids are defective or inconsiderate. Saying “You always” or “You never…” makes our kids want to defend themselves or quibble, rather than listen. (“Well, last Tuesday I didn’t,” they answer, missing your point.)

These personal attacks don’t help. They hurt the child and they hurt our relationship. Yet it is easy to fall into them. As tired parents, we can be tempted to take it personally the hundredth time the child does not do as we asked. But if we remember how feels to be corrected in critical, demeaning words and tone, and if we apply the Golden Rule, correcting others as we want to be corrected, we can improve. Dr. Kathy Koch’s book, Complimenting and Correcting: The Power of Doing it Well, provides advice on how to correct more effectively.

Consider again the mother or father with the son who did a poor job mowing the lawn. The correction was specific and parent’s goal was two-fold: a good-looking lawn, and a boy who knows the satisfaction of doing a job well. If our goal is to blow off steam, we may get the lawn but lose the opportunity with our sons.

What helps you to correct your children in an encouraging way? Share below in the comments section.

Adapted from Kathy Kuhl’s upcoming book, Encouraging Your Child.

Encouraging Your Child

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