Constructive criticism


One of the tougher things about homeschooling is making sure my criticisms of my wee pupils are phrased and delivered constructively.  It’s pointless to be passive-aggressive or outright nasty with a four-year-old, because she’ll draw the wrong pair of lessons — one, that it’s okay to be ugly to someone who is either learning a skill or has made an honest mistake and two, that learning is an ordeal to be suffered instead of a world to be explored.

I posted yesterday about Bugaboo and the nickels.  The lesson that ended up being the focus of our day turned out to be less about skip counting and more about the importance of honest effort and perseverance.  While I’d wager that my tone got a little sharper than necessary, I think she learned, in the end, that being honest and diligent saves her a lot of wretchedness in the long run.  Undoubtedly, she would rather have been playing in the yard with her siblings and the dogs yesterday afternoon; instead, she was stuck in a chair.  If you read the post, you know the rest of the story.

Today, we broke 0ut a bunch of nickels from the change jar, and made a game of practicing skip counting together.  Beanie found this fascinating, and would much rather have joined in our game than finished coloring her picture.  I wouldn’t have minded including her, except that she’s in that difficult period of learning to focus on her own work, regardless of what may be happening around her, and I’m concurrently trying to teach her that when it comes to schoolwork, there are times when my attention needs to be focused on only one tiny person at a time.  Since I really wanted to get Bugaboo invested in the idea that skip counting can be fun, I really wanted her to be my sole focus.

As usual, Bugaboo showed me she’d been paying more attention to the informal parts of my instruction than I thought.  She turned to her younger sister and said, “Beanie, Mommy’s helping me right now. The more times she has to stop to tell you to sit down, the longer it’s going to take me to do my work and the longer it’s going to take you to do yours.  If you let her finish, she’ll come help you next.”

I’d love to tell you that Beanie then parked her patootie in her chair and proceeded to finish the rest of her picture without delay while singing, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”  That would, however, be a complete lie.  She did settle down enough for me to practice skip counting with Bugaboo long enough for her to master independently doing it up to 75.  I’m actually impressed — I’d have been happy if she’d gotten to 40.

The important thing, to me, is that the tiny people hear criticism, not condemnation, and they understand that properly delivered criticism can be a very loving thing.  I appreciate it when people tell me something that I’m not getting quite right, and appreciate it even more when they’re kind enough to offer me some direction on how I can correct my error.  If I can foster that same understanding in the tribe, I think I’ll have taught them something important.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, Your Son’s instruction to not look at the speck in our brother’s eye while ignoring the beam in our own is often misunderstood as meaning that we are to take no notice of the errors of others, and to take umbrage when others bring our own mistakes to our attention.  Please, Lord, help me teach Your blessings that when someone offers correction or instruction to them, they act from love, and help me set a good example of how to receive criticism with a grateful heart.  You took the time to correct us, and even left us an instruction manual with which we could teach each other how to love.  Please remind me to give and accept criticism with a humble heart and a loving tone, and when I receive it, help me be gladly grateful for the freely given gift of the giver’s time.

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5 thoughts on “Constructive criticism

  1. That can be a hard lesson to accept, but it serves us well. You can’t learn and grow if you interpret every critique and criticism as an attack or personal affront. Whether meant well or ill, if we can humbly take the truth from it, then we will be able to improve ourselves. And if we can learn to lovingly give constructive criticism, then we are in a position to help others.

    The fact that you share your personal lessons with us is really wonderful. I learn and grow as I read your words, and they make me think about the kind of person that I want to be.

    • Thank you so much. I’m so glad that my daily struggles can be useful to someone else! Sometimes I feel like the village idiot — as if everyone else knows these things — and it’s incredibly reasssuring to know I’m not the only one who had to learn it the hard way.

      The constructive criticism is one I actually learned because of some people who flatly refused to take when I said at face value — everything, in their view, had to be laden with hidden meanings and innuendo, and meant as an insult. It made me very reluctant to interact with them, but then I realized that persistence would be the key. I am who I am — a deeply flawed person who tries with all her might to see my flaws and fix them, and to offer any help that’s within my power to give along the way.

  2. True words. I just read Matthew 7 this morning and was thinking on these same things. We are walking together, sharpening and being sharpened, aren’t we? Oh that we would appreciate the help and offer help in loving ways.
    Something I’m *trying* to do more of with my kids is raising the bar for them by pointing out their strengths and encouraging them, opening their eyes to their potential in Christ.
    Blessings on your school day!

    • Thanks, Tresta. I’m trying to encourage my kids to recognize their strengths and then use those gifts in ways that are pleasing to the Giver, and at the same time teach them to recognize that He has given each of his children a gift to share. That second part’s a toughie!

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