There’s something parents in pain need to stop doing. I’m referring to parents, like me, who are brokenhearted because of the behaviors and choices of their children. They need to stop criticizing their children.
Criticism: the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. Adverse, negative comments. Condemnation, disapproval, or fault-finding. Parents of troubled, wayward, rebellious adolescents or adults are prone to criticize their children way too much. I’m one of them. Are you?
“It can be almost as hard for us to give up criticizing as it is for an addict to stop using . . .” (Courage to Change, Al-Anon literature)
In Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Richard Carlson wrote, “When we criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.” Ouch!
CRITICISM DOESN’T HELP
Expressing disapproval and criticism does no good. Reproach solves nothing. Our repeated disapproval will not bring about the changed behavior we desire. Critics only contribute to anger and distrust.
No one likes to be criticized. The natural response is to become defensive and withdrawn. Most people tend to react in one of two ways: retreat in fear and shame or attack and lash out in anger.
Criticism is a bad habit hurting parents can fall into. We reproach, blame, and analyze with negativity. It’s so easy to do. Voicing our disapproval is something we grow accustomed to. Assessing our children’s behaviors and choices keeps us busy and gives us something to talk about, but it’s not helpful … for them or for us.
What is the solution? Carlson recommends we try to catch ourselves being critical. Make a game of it. Notice how often we criticize, either verbally or in our thoughts. When we catch ourselves say, “There I go again”. Then replace the critical thought with a positive one, like something we’re thankful for—not necessarily about our child. The gratitude we express can be for anything: beautiful weather, an encouraging text or email, uplifting music, a delicious meal, etc.
How to Break the Cycle of Criticizing
Remember the well-known fire safety chant, stop, drop and roll? That’s what you need to do.
Stop – criticizing, enabling, worrying, arguing, and trying to change your children.
Drop – to your knees in prayer; cry out to God for help to change yourself; ask for mercy and healing for your children. Give your sons and daughters back to him and drop your own bad habits.
Roll – forward into new activities, toward the healthy life you want physically, emotionally and spiritually; get with others who share a similar perspective and goals; keep doing what you know to do so that you remain strong and healthy. Think about what you have to be grateful for. Most importantly, roll into your relationship with God.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Listen to what the Bible has to say about criticism:
Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, or criticize their faults—unless of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own (Matthew 7:1-5 MSG).
Instead of criticizing, the Bible tells us to shift our focus and change our attitude:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32 ESV).
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8 ESV).
With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2 ESV).
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8 ESV).
Let’s pray about this: Gracious Lord, help me be honest with myself. Have I developed a critical spirit? If so, what is going on in me that I need to criticize? Show me if I have fallen into this bad habit. Remind me to stop, drop and roll the next time I start to criticize my child. They might be doing the best they can. I’m dependent on you for the courage to shift my focus and change my attitude. Help! I want to be more like these verses describe: kind, forgiving, humble, gentle, patient, thinking about what is true and good and worthy of praise. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
*Photo cred. Sarah Kilian https://unsplash.com/photos/vf0lyNg41lk?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink
*Photo cred. Rod Long https://unsplash.com/photos/DRgrzQQsJDA?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink