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This is a guest post from Courtney DeFeo of Lil Light O’ Mine
Be sure to check out this vodcast on the same topic
Have you ever experienced a performance review with a boss or feedback from a coach that felt like a physical punch to your gut? Maybe it’s just me, but receiving criticism of any kind has always been hard for me. You could wrap that comment in 190 positive points and I would walk away replaying your one negative point or “area of improvement.”
Now, let’s think about how this relates to parenting. Does anyone get trapped into criticizing our kids all day long, every day? I do! And my intentions are good. I’m trying to teach and coach these kids into adulthood. I just sucked into a trap of constant criticism where suddenly all they can see (and all I can see) is where they are failing. I often flip right past the 8 awesome homework sheets and grab the one sheet with a 73 on it for discussion. I miss the chance to tell them 8 times, they are amazing. Ugh! Why do I do this to them? I can almost see the life drain from their little faces.
When child psychologist, Dr. Kenneth Barish, was asked, “What is the most common problem you encounter in your work with children and families?” His answer: “As parents, we are unwittingly too critical of our children. (Source)
My sister and I used to tease my brother about a weakness – and I recently learned that our little teasing affected him into his adulthood in this one area. Our tease became a label that he believed his entire life. You see – he didn’t live up to a great compliment. He brought himself down to the very worst we thought about him. Lysa TerKeurst says it best in her new book Uninvited, “Rejection steals the best of who I am by reinforcing the worst of what’s been said to me.”
Another interesting source for this common problem is our own insecurities. Author Melissa Trevathan explains it this way in the book Intentional Parenting:
“Your daughter makes a simple comment, and all of a sudden, you’re transported back to your own childhood. Rather than her words, you hear the words of your mother…critical, demanding and shaming. And your response, in that moment, comes more from the child you were than the parent you are. Rather than speaking like a grown-up, you speak like a 10 or 14 year-old. You go back. The situation triggers an emotion in you that takes you back to a certain place in time…a time in which you have perhaps gotten stuck.”
Our words have incredible power over our kids and their identity. This doesn’t mean that we can’t hold them accountable to bad behavior or help them learn right from wrong. I have read all the articles about praising and creating narcissist kids. I am aware of the other extreme. I’d rather land on the side of cheering my kids on any day.
I watched my mom in the dressing room with my daughter the other day and it was like a flashback in time. I remember so many days with my mom in the dressing room with me. I was staring in the mirror seeing every little piece of my body that I hated and she was building me up – never critiquing. I know she saw what didn’t fit on me and on my daughter – but she found a way to find the good. “That color is amazing on you. Gosh – you look good in those kind of skirts.” I watched a mom with incredible self-control realizing the power of her words for destruction or confidence.
For Ron and I, we are challenged to think about how often are pointing their strengths vs calling out their weaknesses. Between society, their classmates and their own negative voices – they are brought down daily. And we need to be on the cheerleading team responsible for building them up. I’d argue, as their parents, we need to be the captains of their cheerleading team.
I have several products designed to equip parents in the area of faith,virtues and values. I was staring at my Virtue Cards the other day and felt a little bit ashamed. I have used my very own cards to critique my girls. I had my girls “working” on a virtue and actually taped it to their mirror. It’s not bad – it worked. We had great discussions. It really isn’t bad to use tools like this to teach our kids about critical life lessons such as self-control and courage. It’s in the absence of praise and discussion of their strengths – that a child begins to doubt their worth. Don’t we all do this – adults and children alike? We spend seasons of life zoned in on our failures when that’s all we hear or notice.
So, last night, I decided to praise them 10 times louder with those same cards. Ron and I had an impromptu awards ceremony and gave them 5 virtues that we felt described each girl. We agreed quickly on 5 for each kid (out of the group of 25). We called them out loud and they giggled because we were a little dramatic.
LARSON – you are JOY! you are OBEDIENT! you are HUMILITY!
ELLA – you are LOYAL! you are KINDNESS! you are HONESTY!
We shouted each definition on each card and made them come up and accept each card like a Golden Globe. Then we encouraged them to hang their set in their rooms. These virtues are in these girls. This IS who they are – joyful, honest, obedient, kind and more. We see it over and over again, We just forget to point out where they are doing so well. Their hearts got the message. You could tell in their smiles.
Larson proudly taped her 5 cards to her bathroom mirror and Ella pinned hers up in her room.
Let’s commit as a group of intentional parents – to see the good in our kids. Let’s point them to Jesus for their ultimate worth and affirmation. To cast a vision for their lives so big – that they rise up. To speak about them the way Jesus would. To see them the way they were designed. To see them for their potential and not for their mistakes. Let’s spend more time celebrating in the good vs rubbing their nose in the bad.
Let’s work together to build up a generation of confident kids sure in their identity so they can change the world together.
Have I told you lately you are one awesome parent?
Here are 5 other fun ways you can use Virtue Cards to nurture you kids hearts!
Table Talk – Pick one card each week to discuss at Sunday dinners (What does that virtue mean? Recognize ways you’ve seen each other display that. Discuss the verse. What is the opposite of that virtue?)
I Spy Virtues Game – Bring them with you in carpool and challenge the kids to look for someone who displays a virtue (i.e. Humility or Integrity) during the day and come back and report back to the family that afternoon during pickup or at dinner that night.
Memorize For Ice Cream – Our family is all about bribery for hiding great things in our hearts. If our kids memorize 5 of the ABC Scripture Cards or 5 of these Virtue Cards – they get an ice cream treat!
Decorate & Display – Pick a virtue that most describes each child and frame for their room (each card is 5” x 7”)
Monthly Focus – Have a family meeting and pick 5 or more values/virtues that you want to be known for as a family and then talk about them each month. Don’t forget to include a family fun activity. Kids learn much quicker through laughter over lectures. For family fun ideas, see In This House, We Will Giggle.
Courtney DeFeo believes our families can light up the world. As a former marketing professional, she lives in a constant brainstorm with herself and suspects it’s the route of her migraines. She loves watching Jesus at work. She is the creator of Lil Light O’ Mine – a small business that empowers moms and changes little lives through innovation in the home. Some of her most notable creations are Ella (age 9), Larson (age 6), ABC Scripture Cards, #LightEmUpActs, Conversation Cups and In This House, We Will Giggle. Her house is a wreck and she hates to cook. A graduate of Auburn University, she adores her hot, Georgia Bulldog husband. She posts entirely too many photos of her animated girls on Instagram. Connect with Courtney anytime at CourtneyDeFeo.com.