Teaching your son how to handle criticism

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, said, “Criticism is something you can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” At some point in your son’s life he will be criticised, so it is important to teach him how to handle criticism.

Handling criticism is often uncomfortable, however it is an important life skill, especially when your son is heading into his teenage years. John Maxwell pinpoints that criticism is part of life and well-placed, constructive criticism is the thing we enjoy the least but usually need the most if we’re to achieve success and our full potential.  


Constructive criticism versus destructive criticism

One distinction to make is the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. Constructive criticism is a helpful balance of positive and negative feedback, where destructive criticism is harmful. Teaching your son the difference is essential so he can effectively evaluate criticism.

When your son receives feedback, encourage him to reflect on the following questions:

  • Who is the person who gave the criticism? — Did it come from someone I trust or someone of authority?
  • How was the criticism delivered? — Was it delivered with kindness and good intentions?
  • How constructive was the criticism? — Did it help me learn something that I can grow from?

If your son answered yes to all these questions, it is constructive criticism. If it crosses the line, encourage your son to discuss it with you or another trusted adult.

Responding to and accepting criticism

In the words of Winston Churchill, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Once your son has identified the criticism as constructive, he needs to respond respectively.

Boys Town suggests that when accepting criticism your son needs to keep good eye-contact with the person and not give negative facial expressions. While the person is talking he should stay calm and quiet, and this may require him to take a deep breath. Once the person has finished he can keep it simple by saying “okay” or “I understand,” if he can’t think of another positive response.

How your son responds to criticism displays maturity and he will reap the benefits. It also indicates that the person who is giving the feedback is invested in seeing your son succeed.

Growing from criticism

The truth is criticism hurts, so it is okay if your son needs time before reflecting on the feedback and applying it. Forbes puts it as giving yourself compassion, but when he is ready to ask he needs to ask himself, “what is the gift or opportunity in this?” The answer to that question is the avenue to growth.

Constructive criticism can open your son’s eyes to things he may have overlooked or never considered. By accepting the feedback and acting on the suggestions, your son will unlock new potential.

At Christ Church Grammar School, The Wynne Centre for Boys’ Health and Wellbeing supports boys with any challenges they may face and encourages a positive mindset for good emotional wellbeing. If you would like to know more about how we build good men, download our Building Good Men Magazine.

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