“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.
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?