How do you feel when someone gives you feedback? Are you open and receptive? Defensive and insulted? If you’re in the latter group, you’re in good company. No one loves getting feedback—even business leaders are rethinking how they talk about it with their employees. But when it comes to constructive criticism, particularly for children, it’s an essential skill that can shape their growth and development.
While we can’t attribute everything to our parents, one thing we know for sure is that learning to accept and use constructive criticism is a skill that everyone should cultivate from a young age. Parents play a crucial role in supporting their children in this journey, helping them not only listen to but also learn from the feedback they receive.
As an expert at Cooper, where we support parents in using the science of early childhood development to solve practical concerns in their everyday lives, here’s what I share with parents about how to help children handle constructive criticism, and how to take action after receiving it, setting them on a path to personal growth and resilience.
5 ways to help kids accept feedback
1. Make it positive
How kids receive feedback has a lot to do with how it is given. The mind naturally responds better to a positive framework, and is generally more open to comments when it perceives them as helpful.
When you deliver constructive criticism to your children, try to recognize their strengths while you help them expand their skills. There is a big difference in being told that you “need to work on something,” vs hearing, “I have some ideas to help you get even stronger.” Or, “I appreciate how imaginative you are in picking your outfits in the morning. Can we find a way to make those decisions more quickly?”
2. Model non-defensiveness
Kids are happy to offer plentiful criticism to their parents. Generally—even when our kids are right (Why do we fight with Grandma about the same old issues? Why don’t we ask for directions when we are lost?), we respond to this by telling them how much it hurts our feelings, doubling down on our decisions, or offering a punishment. Instead, we can try to model being open to our children’s feedback when it is offered—even if it is offered rudely.
Maybe it’s something like, “I thought about what you said, I think you may have a point,” Or, “Thanks for the feedback, I will think about it.” By modeling how you respond, you’re helping your child to see alternatives for how they can respond, too.
3. Support self-expression
When our children feel that what they say matters, they gain confidence in their ability to articulate their ideas. If we can consistently support them in expressing their opinions—with honesty and sensitivity—we can help them to be good feedback-givers, and by extension, good feedback receivers.
4. Focus on behavior, not character
When offering constructive feedback, it’s important to focus on behaviors to change, not to attack who your child is. For example, saying “It’s hard for others to understand you when you speak like that,” is more productive then, “You’re so immature.” Also: Hearing words like “always” or “never” will reduce their desire to make changes.
5. Create an atmosphere of trust
If your children trust that they are loved by you exactly the way they are, for exactly who they are, they will be more receptive to admitting their mistakes and accepting criticism. Knowing that they can mess up and receive your love and attention makes it safer and easier for them to have a growth mindset—the idea that we can grow from practice and mistakes.
A note on helping kids accept constructive criticism
Helping kids accept feedback is a vital skill that you can nurture in your children from a young age. Remember to frame feedback in a positive light, and most importantly, cultivate an atmosphere of trust and unconditional love. When children feel supported in this way, they’re more likely to embrace feedback as a tool for personal growth and development, setting them on a path towards success and resilience.