Lesson Learned: How Our Family Is Cutting Down on Criticism

Posted May 5, 2010 by

One thing that struck me recently was the old saying “Children live what they learn.” If kids see a parent behaving badly towards another family member or being disrespectful even to their kids, the child will absorb those lessons as well and act the same way in return. We cannot expect our own children to be responsible, accountable adults when they grow up if we are not acting as responsible, accountable adults during their childhood years.

My husband Jerry has learned that when he resorts to little critical digs at our son Thomas that it not only hurts Thomas and his feelings, but that Thomas is learning the same behavior and applying it towards Jerry. Of course, Jerry demands respect and is in a place of power over Thomas to demand it and Thomas is not (in Jerry’s eyes) in a similar position to demand the respect. Jerry has since learned that it is a two-way street and it starts with the parent and not the child.

I have noticed that with Thomas, while he is learning new behavior choices and coping skills, he sometimes automatically reverts back to past choices just as much as I do. I see a pattern too. Whenever we are tired or overly stressed, we revert back to what feels “natural” for us. In time, these new ways will become more natural to us and we’ll stop reverting back to old habits.

I’ve never been known by my family to do these “small” or “subtle” nuanced things. Jerry also has a problem with being overly-critical to the point where he invalidates any of the good Thomas or our other son Brandon has achieved and totally ruins the moment for everyone involved. From what I gathered from my conversations with Jerry, he’s never seen that side of himself as a problem before. He didn’t even notice it existed. We’ve been working on those issues ourselves and I’ve gently as possible pointed out where it’s occurring.

Because Thomas knows this is an issue his father needs to work on, as Thomas himself had pointed it out as part of a problem, whenever Jerry is doing it to Thomas, I will say so even if it is in front of Thomas. I don’t like to usurp authority but when a parent is behaving poorly, they need to know when it is happening, just like kids! Jerry also returns the favor when I’m defending Thomas’ and not holding him accountable. It’s a work in progress.

The really cool part? The reciprocity. We allow Thomas to offer solutions to our problems as well as his own. We’re trying to show Thomas that mistakes are okay as long as you own up to them, admit them, and learn from them. We’re living by example.  And that really is a cool way to parent a child. Thomas has grown in his own self-confidence about his ability to problem-solve on his own, too.

Recently, at school, Thomas got into a disagreement with a teacher. I do not know all the details as Thomas did not share them all with us nor did the teacher inform us of the event. But Thomas reported to us that he was quite upset with how the teacher was teaching and wanted to correct the teacher and tell her how to do it “right.” This is a huge issue for Thomas and has led him into a lot of trouble in the past, not only at home, but also at school and with friends. Because Thomas was able recognize where the feelings where coming from, he said he simply reminded himself that it was okay if the teacher was wrong. It didn’t really hurt anyone if she did it her own way. I was really proud of Thomas for that, too and told him so.

There was another moment recently that moved me and made me proud of my son. Having cancer still and not knowing what’s going to happen as far as future treatment goes puts a stress and strain on the whole family. Thomas confided in me this week that he is worried the cancer will kill me and that is why he sometimes pushes at me to make me mad. He wants me to yell at him so he can “hate” me so that when/if I do die, it won’t hurt him as much.  I thanked him for sharing that with me and told him I was proud that he was able to identify that as an issue.  I can’t predict the future and won’t lie to my children but I told him I pray that God will cure me and we will get through this situation as a family, together.

My next post will be about the Problem-solving role that parents can take on to help refine their child’s behavioral choices. Stay tuned!


Heather is a mom of two special needs children and has spent over a decade working with them and other children who present challenging behaviors. She has been writing for over 20 years.

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