I’m a terrible nagger of my children, and I know I’m not alone in needing to stop criticising my kids.
“As parents, we are, unwittingly, too critical of our children,” says Dr Kenneth Barish, author of Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems (affliate link). He says that if he were asked to identify the most common problem he sees in his clinical work, criticising the kids is it.
“We all know, from our own lives, how criticism feels,” he says in an article for Psychology Today. ” It is surprising, then, how often we fail to consider this in relation to our children.”
Why is it so hard to stop criticising my kids?
I’m not a critical person in most aspects of life. I’ve never been a nagger or an “I don’t mean to offend, but” type. I tend to let people do their thing and admire individuality and quirkiness in others.
And yet… my children’s “individuality and quirkiness” is often too much for me to handle. I find myself picking away at the things they do (or absence of things they do), and it’s making me itchy.
I think a lot of it is feeling pressured to “raise them right”.
I want them to have good habits, take pride in their appearance, develop interests and hobbies. All the things. I feel like I’ve been trying to teach them these things their whole life, but it doesn’t seem to be going in.
I know you’ve been here too. We want our children to grow up knowing they are wonderful just the way they are, but only after they’ve learned to X, Y and Z. And X, Y and Z seems to take YEARS of teaching.
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A whole lot of little things
I’m quite sure that I have never knowingly criticised “big things” that my kids are and do – they are all fab people who I take immense pride in. It’s all the little things that I constantly pick at that feel like my sole conversation with them some days.
“Brush your hair, you can’t go out with your hair like that.”
“Tie your shoelaces, you’ll trip.”
“That’s not your best work, you won’t get a good mark for that.”
“What haven’t you made your bed – it’s one simple thing to do every day that shows you care.”
And on and on and on it goes. I especially find myself nagging away at Max, mostly because he couldn’t give a shit about any of the things his mother seems to care about, so no matter how often I pick at him, nothing changes.
Ah, there’s the thing, you see. The only thing my criticising and nagging and picking away at is doing is making him dig his heels in even more, with the knock-on affect of slowly undermining my authority. While my kids may have ignored my “constructive criticism” for at least a decade, these days they are not prepared to simply ignore it, they are fighting back about it. Result: angry kids and a bewildered mother who was “just trying to help”.
How I learned to stop criticising my kids (mostly)
Like all parenting dilemmas that I come up against, I researched this one across cultures and disciplines. I wanted to know what things I could do each day to remind myself to stop criticising my kids.
I know it will take time, but so far these five things are already really helping me to check myself and find another way to teach the lessons I want my kids to hear. Hopefully something here will be useful for you too.
1. The three things approach
I sat my son down and we talked through the top three things he most hated being nagged about (hair, shoes, posture). I told him that I could let the hair and shoes go, if he would agree that I could keep reminding him about his posture. Done deal.
2. Allocating time for nags
We also agreed that the constant drip, drip, drip of criticism was doing our collective heads in, so we agreed that it would be fair to give Mum some nagging sessions each day, but I’m not allowed to criticise outside of those times. Right now, it’s first thing in the morning (but not all morning, sadly). The beauty of this technique is that I have to check myself all day, which makes me more conscious of the number of times I would ordinarily criticise my kids (it’s A LOT). Though I do slip up because it’s super hard not to spill out a good nag in the moment, I’m much nicer to be around as a result (I remind myself, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”).
The beauty of this technique is that I have to check myself all day, which makes me more conscious of the number of times I would ordinarily criticise my kids (it’s A LOT).
3. Write it down
Because I’ve been so restricted in when I can “offer helpful advice”, I took to writing a “reminder” note that I stuck to my kids’ doors for them not to read. Or maybe they will read it. Either way, it forced me to formalise my “feedback” and thus made me think through what’s really worth saying. What do I really want my kids to work on improving and what’s really not that big a deal?
4. Serving a shit sandwich
I mentioned the shit sandwich in another article and so many people had never heard of it (but loved it). A good shit sandwich has been an essential part of learning to be helpful, not destructive, with my criticism. There is always plenty that my kids do well for me to sandwich my criticism inside of. A bit of praise, nag, a bit of praise. Softens the blows and, again, makes me consider whether the “instructive criticism” is worth pointing after all.
What do I really want my kids to work on improving and what’s really not that big a deal?
5. It’s not about me, or maybe it is
As the kids have grown up, I’m struggled to move from “little kid” mum to “big kid” mum. Little kid mums are judged far more on what the little kids are doing. By the time kids are older, we’ve all accepted that it’s probably the kid, not the parenting. At least, I hope we have. My need to stop criticising my kids comes from knowing that I need to let go and let them figure things out on their own. Sure, the hair does looks like they slept the night in a homeless shelter, but so what? One day they might realise that brushed hair makes other people more receptive to them, or maybe they won’t. It’s up to them to figure out what’s important to them.
Inviting my kids to tell me what they think is wrong with me and the way I do things was confronting, but necessary. It made me realise how hard it is to hear negative stuff from the ones you love. It was also interesting to learn what was important to them, because it wasn’t necessarily what was important to me (sound familiar?).
It also made me realise how much nicer and kinder my kids are than me. Perhaps they are not the one I should be nagging to do better after all…
Do you have any further advice for how I can stop criticising my kids?
Image by Foroozan Faraji