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Criticism's Harmful Effects

By: Shirley King

"That was really stupid! I can't believe you did that. What on earth is the matter with you? What an idiot. Shame on you!" These are examples of verbal criticism. Criticism is incredibly damaging to our children to our children.

Children suffer in innumerable ways when they are subjected to a steady (or even occasional) diet of criticism. Stephanie Marston writes the Magic of Encouragement about a study from the University of Calgary which "shows that verbal abuse is even more likely than physical abuse to damage children's self-esteem." Criticism hurts children in profound psychological ways.

Unfortunately, many parents are not aware of the intense damage they do when they humiliate, put down, judge, belittle, ridicule, or criticize their children. Their intentions, although misguided, are for the best to motivate their children into doing better.

However, when parents criticize, it has the opposite effect; it actually demotivates and discourages their children. Criticism actually squashes any feelings children have of trying something new, and results in them feeling alienated from their parents. Criticized children end up feeling angry, worthless, unloved and undeserving, and their self-esteem drops. Around and around it goes. It's a vicious circle that parents keep alive with their continual hurtful criticism.

Young children view their parents as all-knowing, and take in their words as gospel truth. Children don't filter out the good from the bad but instead, like a hidden tape recorder in their Bo-computer, store it all. This then becomes the basis for their sense of self-worth and self-esteem. These words spoken to a child, form the internal monologue we all have running through our minds as adults. "If Mom thinks I'm clumsy, dumb, stupid, an idiot, fat, lazy, etc. then it must be so." Most of all, this is on an unconscious level, yet that doesn't negate its importance at all.

When a parent says, "You're such a slob." for example, the child takes this in, internalizes it, and it becomes a part of who he is. Soon he comes to see himself as a sloppy person and inevitably becomes more sloppy. There is such a thing as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Parents need to know that their words to their children have powerful, deep and long-lasting effects. They need to stop using hurtful and damaging language with their children.

And so, What is a parent to do? Many parents ask, "If I don't point out what he's doing wrong, how can I get him to do better?"

It is vital for parents to be encouraging, appreciating and supporting of her children instead of critical. She needs to focus on what is right, as opposed to looking for what is wrong with her child. She needs to switch her point of view to become one who builds her child up, rather than tears him down - which is what criticism does to children. When parents are actively looking for the good things about their child, they won't be so quick to find and point out his faults.

Parents need to continually look for the good and see their children in a good light. If parents can focus on the good, they will then see behavior improve dramatically. Encouraging and appreciating our children, as an alternative to criticism, is a loving a respectful way to parent.

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