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.

Popular on Empowering Parents

View Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. heatherbabes Report

    searchingford and parentingaling,

    Thank you both for your comments. I truly believe God has and continues to bless me and my family. We would not be where we are today without Him; that much I know.

    I am glad that I had the opportunity to use the TT program. It really has done wonders for our family as we all learn and continue to learn more.

    Thank you for sharing with me and the other readers. It helps to know we are not alone!

  2. parentingaling Report

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I once heard a wise saying, that success in parenting is almost entirely dependent on the combination of personal example and prayer. This definitely highlights a lot of the truth in that.

  3. searchingford Report

    First, Great article…it’s right on target!

    Secondly, I love the comments about how love is unconditional. This kind of Godly love is without question the best thing you can do to bring kids up the “right way.”

    We set expectations high for our children and we try hard to give them the tools to succeed. When they don’t, rather than criticizing them, we try to find specific behaviors that will result in better outcomes.

    As a teacher, I learned early on to praise in public and to criticize in private. My wife and I have agreed that any criticism of anyone can be handled discretely. However, when it comes to our kids, we try to do the old “how would you have handled it differently?” when things don’t go their way.

    We openly discuss conflict and failures and talk about healthy ways to deal with problems. It all about valuing solutions rather than focusing on the failures.

    The result….my kids are still imperfect as am I. At least we are trying.

    On an unrelated topic. My wife and kids made this little video we are sharing. It was made to support my wife in returning to college. Please watch it.


    Finally, Heather, I will pray for you. God has a plan for you through all this. You are doing great work for families through your writing….blessings!

  4. heatherbabes Report


    We have a lot in common! Like you, I want my children to know that my love is not based on those things. I love them, period.

    Of course, I tell them we should all strive to better ourselves in the ways we know we need to. But the ultimate thing to remember is we are loved. 🙂

  5. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Heather, you are a wise woman. Like you, I think I put a lot of pressure on myself as a kid to be perfect. Somewhere along the way I realized how exhausting that was! Now I tell my son, “Nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes mistakes.” And sometimes I tell him how I made the same mistakes he did at his age. He loves these stories and begs me to tell him more! LOL. I also make a point of telling him, “I will always love you. Even if you get straight A’s or even if you get straight F’s, I will love you the same, and that won’t ever change.” (Of course, I throw in that we will get him help if he has trouble at school, etc. I just want him to know that our love is not based upon how well he performs at school or anywhere else. It just is.)

  6. heatherbabes Report

    Joanna, Jean and Sis:

    Thank you all for your comments! God has already blessed me and I do hope it will continue 🙂

    I have no shame in letting anyone know I am not perfect. It’s a hard lesson for some to admit… and it used to be for me. Growing up, I had a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect. Not saying my parents created that for me, just that the pressure was there. I want to remove that for my kids. I don’t want them to think that it’s not “good enough” if it is their best. As long as you do the best that you are able to do, no one can blame you for that.

    One mom asked me once why I didn’t punish Thomas for getting a D. Well, because I knew Thomas did his best (he paid attention during class, participated and did his homework assignments). If that was his best, what more could I expect? Sometimes we don’t get it on the first pass… those are lifelong lessons. You just keep trying until you do “get it.”

  7. Jean Nicol Report

    Heather, you are an empowering parent for your children and for so many who will read your blog. What awesome lessons being learned by your son and husband. How wonderful that your children observe you and your husband learning too. One day, as a parent Thomas will remember these lessons. I pray that you will still be with them all. You can see the fruits of your labors as you enjoy your grandchildren and observe Thomas’ parenting skills you modelled for him. God bless you and your family.

  8. Joanna Report

    I find it so good that you are recognising it when being critical, recognizing it as a weakness and that you are answerable to each other. In a safe and loving family environment there is so much scope for growth, as long as we all remain humble. We have experienced similar things in our family and always aim at positive reinforcement rather than negativism. We have seen quite a bit of change in this way and our have great relationships with our four boys.



Join our NEW Total Transformation® Learning Center!

Practical, affordable parenting help starting at $14.95/month BECOME A MEMBER TODAY!

Empowering Parents is the leading online resource for child behavior help


Parent Coaching Sessions

7.5 Million

Global Visitors

10+ Years

Helping Families