7 Tips On How To Criticize Children With Care

“You really shouldn’t let your child manipulate you.”

“You really shouldn’t eat dessert. It will ruin your diet.”

How would you feel if someone told you these helpful statements? Defensive? Annoyed? Angry? If so, you are not alone. It is challenging to hear rebuke even if it is for one’s own benefit.


As parents, it is our obligation to give our children rebuke and guide them on the correct path. If we will not nudge them gently in the right direction, how will they know not to stray? At the same time, we cannot just dispense heaping spoonfuls of rebuke. At best, the child will tune it out; at worst, he will rebel. Either way, the child will most likely become crushed and broken. Giving rebuke in a positive, effective manner is a balancing act. When given respectfully and smartly, we can get our messages across and still maintain our child’s dignity. As is said by the age-old adage, “Dispense criticism like pepper and compliments like sugar.”

As you are about to give rebuke, it should be done out of love and care (put your arm around the child’s shoulder, pat his hand while rebuking him), rather than stemming from anger or embarrassment. A motive such as, “what will the neighbors think?” or “this is ruining our family reputation” is not valid. If your child has done something wrong and you are not in the state of mind to give him rebuke, either wait until your feelings simmer or have another objective party do the guiding.

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When rebuking your child, choose your words carefully. Be clear. Keep it short and sweet. Sometimes, even a stern look or gesture can be enough to get a message across. Don’t use sarcasm, put-downs or comparisons. Keep your tone of voice friendly. Don’t start a discussion or argument. Try to think of a positive way of phrasing your message, such as “When your blouse is tucked in, you really look like a princess.”

Most importantly, try to preserve your child’s self-esteem and self-image. Of course, that means to give rebuke in private and to criticize the action not the person, such as your room is so messy vs. you are a slob.  Your goal is to improve character traits. Below are some suggestions how to do this:

  • Allow the child to figure out on his own what he did wrong. It is much easier to swallow the rebuke that way. So, instead of yelling at your seven-year-old for bossing his playmate, you can tell him, I saw how you treated your friend when he came over. How do you think he felt?
  • Remember to use the skill of negative-I messages. “When I entered the living room and saw the food left by your studying team, I felt annoyed at your lack of responsibility and initiative to clean up.”
  • With younger children, you can weave a message into a story about a child of the opposite gender, living in a different city…with the same challenge. Or you can find a book with a message similar to the one you wish to impart.
  • You can describe what you see going on, rather than offer direction. I see toys on the floor that can cause someone to trip. You can also state rules, rather than give orders, such as when milk spills, we use a rag to clean it up.
  • For children who have a hard time accepting rebuke, you can sugar-coat your words by keeping your message open-ended. For example, “You might want to consider eating breakfast today, since you need more energy to take the big test…”
  • Always try to teach your child a skill rather than criticizing a given area. For example, instead of telling your son his briefcase is messy, teach him how to organize it.
  • Finally, teach your child that accepting rebuke is a skill to work on. You are their role model, teaching them to accept rebuke graciously. Children must understand that to improve, we must all listen to each other’s constructive criticism.

Of course, it’s hard to master the skill of giving rebuke effectively. However, it’s even harder not to give rebuke at all and hardest to give it in a constructive way. So, keep these words of rebuke in mind…as you give your child rebuke and honest feedback.

Did you ever feel annoyed or angry at someone for giving you rebuke in an inconsiderate manner?


20 responses

  1. I truly appreciate this post. I have been looking everywhere for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You have made my day! Thank you again

  2. Valuable info. Fortunate me I discovered your website unintentionally, and I am surprised why this coincidence did not happened earlier! I bookmarked it.

  3. Great tips and great parenting reminders that will help during those teenage years! We had a habit of reading a lot about parenting when are children were little, but it’s just as important during the teenage years!

    1. Thanks Kristl! That’s great your read a lot on parenting – it’s great info that hopefully won’t be forgotten.

  4. realarmyofmoms | Reply

    Wonderful advice. Sometimes we forget to wait until we are not mad anymore to speak.

    1. Yup, it can happen often but when we get hold of ourselves, we’ll hold it out until our anger subsides.

  5. These are great tips. As parents we have a responsibility to use care when speaking to or about our children.

    1. Thanks Taylor and yes, we as parents have a very big responsibility in caring for our children.

  6. Great tips, thank you for sharing. It is easy to speak out in anger and not even think about the damage that can be done.

    1. As the saying goes: “Think before you speak”!

  7. Great article with great info! Thanks for posting.

    1. Your welcome, and thanks for stopping by!

  8. I love this post and especially love where you said, “try to preserve your child’s self-esteem and self-image.” I think this is really important because we can all be hard on ourselves and children who suffer from self-esteem issues tend to carry a lot of other weight as well. Thank you for this.

    1. Thanks Lexie for your beautiful comment! We most certainly have to watch that our children don’t suffer from a low self-esteem which is detrimental to their development.

  9. Super Post! I love the point of focus on the action not the person.

    1. Thanks, and yes, it’s always a good rule to keep in mind – blame the action, not the person!

  10. Good, solid advice – thank you so much!

    1. Your welcome Leigh! I’m glad you enjoyed.

  11. I appreciated your comment about waiting and addressing the issue later. This has worked for me, because I tend to want to fix the problem NOW! By waiting, I cooled down and realized it wasn’t really a problem. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Becky! I can relate to the concept of wanting to fix problems NOW!! I’m the same way and I feel great when i postpone my reactions!

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