Constructive criticism for kids, or anyone, is most effective with love and care. Think of it as compassionate critique.
Nobody likes criticism, probably because it is an “expression of disapproval” and is “based on perceived mistakes or faults,” according to the Miriam-Webster Dictionary.
But kids learn by making mistakes (adults, too, honestly). Pure criticism only undermines your child’s learning process.
So the question becomes: How do you point out someone’s mistakes without tearing them down?
This is why it’s important to use constructive criticism for kids. By definition, constructive criticism focuses on “helping to improve” mistakes and faults.
Kids need to be able to handle constructive criticism without crumbling to pieces or breaking down.
Pro Tip: An Au Pair can make the perfect role model for teaching this important life skill to their Host Children. Au Pairs support Host Parents in all ways involving their kids, yet need to be willing to accept some constructive criticism in order to meet the needs of their hosts and contribute to successful experiences.
Constructive criticism or bullying?
Not all criticism is constructive or helpful to the person receiving it, but that doesn’t make it bullying either. Kids are kids and need to be taught they won’t always be right.
Kids learn this over time and with practice. Accepting constructive criticism is a skill each person can develop with practice and compassion.
Bullying should never be accepted. It is not a form of constructive criticism. Bullying is mentally and physically harmful. It aims to tear a person down.
The goal of constructive criticism, however, is to empower someone to change for the better.
Constructive criticism seeks to correct bad habits, unproductive behaviors, or inefficient processes. The best constructive criticism for kids is uplifting, kind, and informative.
Open, regular communication with your child is the best way to help them discern the difference between constructive criticism and bullying. Chances are the parents aren’t bullying their children. But other adults in your child’s life could be guilty of doing this.
It’s important that your child, not just you, recognizes the difference.
Pro Tip: Busy parents often rely on others, like an Au Pair, to be there and listen. Au Pairs have the unique ability to develop deep, meaningful relationships with the children in their care. They can help children understand whether or not someone intended to help make an improvement or to be mean.
Au Pairs often spend many hours with their Host Kids and are able to help with social and relationship problems. They have time to listen, give constructive advice, and can keep Host Parents informed of any concerns before they become problems.
When should constructive criticism start?
It’s a good idea to teach kids how to take criticism from an early age. People will be giving criticism (only some of it constructive) their entire lives.
Receiving constructive feedback is difficult, even with an adult’s maturity. None of us likes to hear what we are doing wrong, but each of us can benefit from hearing ways we can be more successful. Think of it as a mindset.
Infants and babies under a year cannot understand criticism. Though, they understand intonation and volume of voices. At this stage, parents are often focused on teaching babies that hitting, pulling hair, and biting are not okay.
(This isn’t constructive criticism so much as using your voice and actions, such as putting baby down if she bites you to teach appropriate behavior).
Toddlers begin to understand when a parent or caregiver corrects their behavior. School-aged children are used to constructive feedback from teachers but may need guidance to handle feedback from parents or caregivers.
Older kids probably won’t welcome constructive criticism, but can be taught ways to manage feedback from a variety of sources. Teens and young adults are still learning how to handle constructive criticism and apply it to life.
Who should give constructive criticism to kids?
Parents and caregivers are the first to provide constructive criticism to kids. Later, teachers and coaches will join the crowd.
Criticism is easier to handle when it comes from someone who cares for the child. Kind words ensure the child knows the critique comes from a place of love.
Starting early can help children learn to cope with feedback in a healthy way. Try not to criticize children in a way that makes them feel bad. Instead, help them see life’s natural consequences and give age-appropriate examples.
Help little ones understand that when given in a caring way, constructive criticism is just a way for things to be better. It’s easy to implement simple examples in the home. As children grow, families and Au Pairs can show kids how constructive criticism can help them improve their performance in all sorts of activities.
Sports coaches are well-practiced with constructive criticism for kids. A coach’s goal is to teach the skills and rules of a sport. These skills help children learn to follow rules and adopt new skills in their daily lives.
Teachers, professors, and bosses will also provide constructive criticism for decades to come. Teaching kids early in life to cope with constructive criticism is definitely worth the effort!
Constructive Criticism 101
Here are some basic examples of constructive criticism for kids, segmented by age group:
Critiquing Toddlers in an Empowering Way
- During dressing tasks, have child check themselves in the mirror to see if clothing is on correctly, shoes on the right feet, and so on, asking, “Does that look (or feel) right?”
- Have child check the weather for clothing that might be required, like a raincoat, winter gear, etc. before leaving for daycare or an activity, rather than criticizing them for getting their shoes wet. Matching clothes doesn’t matter for toddlers, as long as the child is appropriately dressed for the weather and activity, etc.
- During cleaning tasks or chore time, a toddler can be shown they left a pile of dirt and help to sweep it in the trash.
- During meals, kids will be messy and make spills. They can help wipe up messes they make. Help kids recognize a mess and then provide simple materials for basic clean up.
- Show toddlers how holding a cup or spoon correctly can lessen spills and be prepared to show them again, and again.
- During playtime, allow toddlers to play with toys or games however they want unless they are using them inappropriately or in ways to cause harm. Avoid saying, “You’re doing that wrong,” and instead an adult could offer, “Try moving it like this,” or “Try it again.”
- Young children might cry when they lose a game. Help create the mindset that games are fun to participate in and there are usually more chances to play again, even if they don’t ever win.
Uplifting Comments for School-Age Children
- During chore and homework time, instead of criticizing, help kids to evaluate whether the chore or assignment is well done (would they consider the chore well done if their brother or sister did it that way? Will parents or teachers say the assignment is well done?).
- Along the same lines, kids can learn that looking at a teacher’s notes on a project can be applied to future projects to earn better grades.
- During playtime, encourage learning new games and their rules. Avoid negative comments, even if the child is doing it wrong. Say things like, “I think you will be more successful doing it like this,” or “It helps me to…” or “Can you read that rule again?”
- If kids are sore losers after a game, explain that everyone wants to win, but that cannot be the case. Help kids to recognize what they could have done to win if anything. Then help them to move on to another chance at it, a different game, or some practice drills to improve a skill.
- School-aged kids sometimes experience friend problems and may need help to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Au Pairs can talk to kids about their experiences meeting new friends in a new place.
Constructive Feedback for Tweens & Teens
- Teach tweens and teens to evaluate chores and homework tasks, with even more conversation about doing things right the first time and natural consequences. If they do not keep up with laundry (even if that just means getting it to the basket for the Au Pair to wash), the outfit they want for Friday might not be clean, if all assignments are not completed and submitted, they will miss a special event at school.
- Time management becomes important for kids at this age, so rather than hurrying your teen, timers can help to keep pace, whether it be completing an assignment or free time.
- Grades and sports become connected in middle school. Kids who struggle with academics need constructive criticism. Show them how taking notes during class or seeing the teacher for extra help can improve their chances for success.
- Hygiene can be an area where kids get criticism from their peers. So, help kids evaluate whether they are ready or not. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to constructive criticism about teens’ hygiene. It’s much more embarrassing to hear about body odor or bad breath from your buddies. Most kids would rather hear it from a parent or Au Pair! Be sure to provide travel size products for backpacks or sports bags.
Celebrate when kids accept constructive criticism and use it to their advantage!
Even the youngest kids learn from the criticism they receive.
Next time your little one cleans her own mess, cheer!
If you correct behavior and there are no tears, give a high five!
When you see your little one checking the weather before getting dressed, recognize him!
If your tween notices an error on their homework and fixes it, notice her!
When you see your teen checking the mirror before leaving the house, be glad they care how they look!
Parents want kids (and Au Pairs) to take constructive criticism and learn how to grow from it. That’s not to say anyone wants their children to become complacent and submissive, accepting everyone’s criticism without question.
Life is full of people ready to evaluate and criticize. Kids need to recognize the difference between bullying and constructive criticism for kids.
Pro Tip: Ideally, Au Pairs can help teach their Host Kids the concept of continual self-improvement. They have a great opportunity to show them how every “criticism” is an opportunity to grow as a person.
Bonus: Au Pairs Can Help Kids Benefit from Constructive Feedback!
Who loves kids more than their parents and the people who care for them when mom and dad are working? Hosting an Au Pair benefits parents and solves parenting problems beyond just childcare!
Personal growth is a goal for both Au Pairs and Host Kids. Au Pairs are another trusted person and role model to guide your child to their best self!