Criticism Doesn’t Have to be Bad

I’m browsing “Children Learn What They Live”, the book based on the popular poem. One of the lines is “If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn”. Reading it, the author describes being critical as being overly and unjustly negative. Telling children off for mistakes that, given their developmental stage, they were bound to make or that adults make all the time.  Using an overly harsh tone. Saying things that leads the child to believe that they are bad or they aren’t good enough or they are wrong.

But “Criticism” is the wrong word choice here. Criticism can be harsh, but it can also be constructive. Criticism can be a potent tool to help us learn and grow, when used correctly, and children will do well to be taught how to handle criticism.

I suppose that, being an artist, this is something I’m sensitive to. The delicate dance of criticism where both artist and critic must be open and respectful to the other. Artists need to learn the self-confidence required to take harsh criticism. Critics need to learn how to tactfully express their opinions.  Artists also need to know when to ignore criticism. Giving good criticism is actually a skill, one that not many people develop.

In college, I had one professor who gave amazing critiques. He was truly skilled at being able to point out the positives (a big failure of criticism is to only point out the negatives) and to present the negatives in a constructive way that encourages the student to improve, rather than coming off as condemning. I didn’t always agree with the criticism, in fact I vehemently disagreed with his feminism, but I respected how it was presented. I also had teachers who were horrible at giving criticism.

As parents, we need to focus on how to be good critics. We can and should teach our children how to take harsh criticism, but unless we’re willing to withhold all criticism until they’ve mastered that skill, we need to be good critics. Giving truly constructive criticism is not easy, but it’s incredibly valuable.

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