How to Give Constructive Criticism to Children

Constructive criticism aims to improve children's behavior, but not to hurt them. Learn more about how to proceed in this article.
How to Give Constructive Criticism to Children

Last update: 11 October, 2022

How do you get kids to develop desired behaviors? What’s the secret to learning? These are some of the questions all parents ask, but do you know how to give constructive criticism to children?

Although it sounds difficult, it really isn’t. It’s about striking a balance between being explicit about the behavior we want them to develop and not cramping their style or damaging their self-esteem. Let’s see how we can achieve this and help them.

What is constructive criticism and what are its benefits?

As the name suggests, constructive criticism is criticism that serves as a kick-start to promote behavior or change and motivates improvement. They are constructive because they are learning-oriented and not focused on hurting or devaluing the person. The opposite are destructive criticisms, those that are loaded with negativity and aggressiveness. These only aim to hurt the other person.

Among the main benefits of constructive criticism to children, we find the following:

  • Strengthens self-esteem and challenges them to do better.
  • Constructive criticism gives them self-confidence, as with it, children understand that we trust that they can do better and that they’re capable of achieving more.
  • It fosters a close relationship with children and strengthens mutual interest and affection.
A father being overly critical of his son.
Aggressive scolding isn’t an optimal method for children to learn. It’s best to point out mistakes in a good way and then teach and help children to do things a better way.

Learn how to give constructive criticism to children

The tone we use and the way we talk to the child are key when it comes to pointing out mistakes. Afterward, we’ll have to explain the correct way to do things and, if necessary, help them to achieve it. Here are some tips on how to give constructive criticism to children. Take note!

Show respect and assertiveness

This way, when you make an observation, you’ll ensure that the child can connect with what you’re saying and not take it personally. If your comment seems like aggression, it’s likely that the child will try to defend themself. In that case, their brain will stop listening to you and will start thinking of a strategy to “attack back”. You also need to watch your tone of voice and body language.

Don’t make criticism personal

When you seek to make constructive criticism, it’s best to point out the behavior or task you want to change and not make reference to the person’s qualities. Thus, instead of telling your child “you’re a messy person,” you can speak to them in the following way: “I need you to cooperate more with the tidiness of your room.”

When we make reference to something personal, we run two risks. First, that children will take it badly because it seems like an aggression or, second, we run the risk that they’ll hold on to the label and believe that it’s an attribute of their personality and not something they can change.

Make the observation positive

Our minds work best when they hear positive messages. What’s more, we learn the right direction to follow when we receive positive instructions. So, instead of saying, “Don’t leave all the crumbs on the table,” ask your child what you do want them to do: “Please clean the table after breakfast.”

Highlight something positive in their behavior or attitude

Highlighting good intentions or valuing efforts are good options before highlighting the mistake to be corrected. For example, you can tell your child, “It was very good of you to pick up the clothes off the floor. However, next time, instead of leaving them on the bed, you should take them to the hamper.”

Serve as an example

Many children learn best when they’re able to see the desired behavior, i.e., how it’s done correctly. You can even go a step further and do it together with them. This way, you can guide them in practice so that they can do it on their own another time.

Speak clearly and be concise

This means that you should try to be concrete and not go in circles about what you want to point out. It’s also important that you talk to your children and show them the benefits of doing things right so they don’t think it’s just a whim of yours.

Find an opportune moment

Even if the criticism is positive, it’s important to find a time when your child doesn’t feel exposed in front of others. Also, you should create a situation that is conducive to talking about it and that allows both of you to express your emotions. So, to make it work, it isn’t a good idea to communicate constructive criticism as if it were a flippant conversation.

Offer help

Once you point out to the child what you want to get from them, offer your collaboration and ask them if they have any doubts. If you allow this space for exchange, you may discover that they were unable to do a certain task for some external or unrelated reason. For example, they didn’t put the clean dishes away because the cupboard is too high up.

A father letting his toddler son help him paint a wall.
Offering help or collaborating with your child to achieve the task will be an enriching experience for them that will contribute to their learning.

Teach to build, not to destroy

Learning to teach is also an art that parents must dabble in. It’s a matter of practicing, observing, improving, and correcting.

It’s essential to find the most appropriate ways to accompany the upbringing of children. We must know that the foundations of socio-emotional development, self-esteem, relational models, and identity are laid during childhood.

Those children who’ve been criticized or who’ve had an authoritarian or rigid upbringing are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, or interpersonal difficulties. Therefore, it’s important for parents to reflect on whether we’re making an observation that will help our children to improve or if we’re just trying to get them to do things our way. In this regard, we must also learn to let them be and do as they please.

Finally, educating with empathy and treating others the way we’d like to be treated is key to raising happier humans.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Rodríguez-Garcés, Carlos René, Gallegos Fuentes, Marcelo, & Padilla Fuentes, Geraldo. (2021). Autoestima en Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes chilenos: análisis con árboles de clasificación. Revista Reflexiones100(1), 19-37.
  • Vargas Rubilar, J. A., & Oros, L. B. (2011). Parentalidad y autoestima de los hijos: una revisión sobre la importancia del fortalecimiento familiar para el desarrollo infantil positivo.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.