HANDLING  CRITICISM  AND  UNHELPFUL  ADVICE ☆☆☆☆

We’ve learned how to be supportive of others, when they are experiencing problems with their children, but how do we handle people who are less than supportive to us?

Screening  Advice

Not all advice is healthy or accurate, even when people tell us “it works.” Whenever we hear or read advice, we want to screen it, to make sure it is consistent with our positive parenting plan and long-term goals. Here are a few guidelines for screening advice.

Don’t blindly accept parenting advice without double-checking its accuracy. Consider the basis for the advice.

  • Is it someone’s personal opinion or is it based on research, broad experience, and methods that have been proven effective over time? Don’t automatically trust advice just because someone believes “It worked for me and my children, therefore it will work for everyone.” There could be other factors that led to the success—or the long-term negative effects are yet to be seen!
  • Does it reflect personal power, control, or superiority issues? Don’t blindly accept advice from people who think “I am an expert simply because I have a degree and work with families; therefore I know it all and everything I say is automatically accurate.”

 

Chapter  15:  Three  C’s:  Consistency,  Criticism,  Confidence                                                        415

 

  •  Is the advice based on fear or love? Be careful if you hear a hidden message that says “If you don’t do what I say you’re a wimp and will lose control of your kids.” Avoid advice that offers unhealthy quick fixes or extreme reactions.

Compare the advice to the proper definitions and guidelines of healthy parenting philosophies and techniques you’ve learned on this tour. Don’t get hung-up on whether the person uses the same terms we use in this book. Look beyond the words to the qualities and philosophy of the technique. Especially consider the following questions:

  • Is the philosophy positive, balanced, and healthy? Does an author promote a balanced approach or only see things in black and white; their way and the wrong way. Do they use the correct definitions for healthy parenting techniques? If the definition is incorrect, does the advice still fit the guidelines of healthy, balanced parenting?
  • What is the philosophy of discipline? Is it really punishment? Does this style promote the parent’s power and superiority at the expense of the child’s rights and needs?
  • What does the technique teach children? Are there unhealthy hidden messages?
  • Does the advice say this is the only way to handle a situation or that there are choices to pick from? The Parent’s Toolshop outlines specific steps for responding to problems, but at each step there are several options we can choose and no one response is the only possible helpful response. We can even mix and match these tools, as long as we follow the basic guidelines.
  • Is the advice a commonly accepted idea, but inaccurate, unhealthy, or unhelpful? Consciously choose advice based on how well it can help you reach your long-term parenting goals.

A Professional’s Comment. There’s so much about The Parent’s Toolshop that I like. As a parent, it is easy to react to problems; this offers many healthy alternatives. As a counselor, I like the way I can apply the process to all relationships. There were so many things that even as a therapist, with all the training I’ve had, that I didn’t realize—like the myths about time-outs. I’ve been giving the same kind of advice lots of other professionals give—and assumed it must be right, because so many people believed it. This was a real eye-opener.

You will find that you can trust the advice of the authors I’ve referenced in this book. Since The Parent’s Toolshop is so comprehensive and references many other books, it could take a lifetime just to master these ideas. We don’t need to confuse ourselves by reading books where we have to pick and choose ideas with a fine-toothed comb. We can be selective about our future reading, choosing those books and articles that explore balanced parenting techniques in more depth or those that deal with specific issues. 

Our focus is on establishing a good relationship with our own children. We can ignore any advice that gets in the way of these goals or reduces communication and mutual respect in our family.

 

Why  People  Criticize

Adult behavior can be unintentional or intentional, just like children’s. Unintentional criticism usually comes from people who mean well, but express themselves poorly. Seek the value in what they say, instead of reacting to the way they say it. People often criticize parents because they are insecure about their own parenting (their upbringing, or how current methods compare to those they used when their children were young). If someone follows their advice, it confirms their way is “right” (PO, power).

 

416                                                                                                                 The  Parent’s  Toolshop

 

Often, people offer advice because they assume others don’t know any better, especially first-time parents. It often seems that everyone from the maternity nurse to the stranger in the grocery store thinks new parents need advice. Unfortunately, unsolicited advice is often inaccurate and confuses new parents. When a mother has her second child, the maternity nurse often says, “Oh well, I guess you know all this.” Use this to your advantage. The more educated you become, the more confident you will be, and the less criticism and unwanted advice will sway you.

Other people criticize because pessimism and know-it-all-ism are part of their personality (PU). You probably can’t change them, but you can learn to protect yourself from their toxic personalities. Refuse to believe their insults. Let comments “roll off your back.” If you can do this, you’ll reduce your stress and maintain the relationship (if you must, as with relatives). If this doesn’t work, you may need to set limits for yourself or the other person. (See “When to Set Limits” later in this section.)

Some people intentionally criticize to get revenge or express jealousy (PO). They might feel guilty about mistakes they made and want to justify their decisions. They might also think that because you read a lot of parenting books or have taken a parenting class, you think you’re perfect or your children are perfect. They thrill in pointing out your mistakes or shortcomings. “Did they teach you to do that in your parenting class?” “So when does the book tell you to finally give that kid a spanking?” Always try to present yourself humbly, “I’m not a perfect parent and neither are my kids. I don’t know it all and still have a lot to learn.” If you want to explain your methods, you can say, “This may not be the way for everyone, but from all I’ve seen, read, believe, and tried, this is the way I want to go. I believe it’s worth the investment, but that’s my choice. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.”

 

 Responding to Criticism

Use the Universal Blueprint. It is best to take the same approach with criticism as we do with parenting problems. Remember, the blueprint is “universal” because it applies to all relationships.

  1. First, figure out whose problem it is, theirs or yours. If it’s their insecurity, just listen and be understanding. Is their behavior unintentional or intentional? If it is intentional, what is their goal. Power? Revenge?
If you are repeatedly criticized by someone you can’t avoid, Prevent the problem from starting or worsening by planning ahead for the next “attack.”
  • Consider the criticizer’s perspective, so you can acknowledge their feelings and reduce their defensiveness. If they feel understood, they might not attack as much. It can also help you better understand their motives.
  • Imagine the situation and what the person usually says. Plan a respectful response and practice it in your mind or with a person who knows the criticizer and what he or she might say or do. Include in your plan the words you will say, staying calm, positive self-talk, tone of voice, body language, and when to walk away, if needed.
  1. If or when you respond to criticism, start by Acknowledging the other person’s feelings or perspective, “I can understand how you might feel that way . . .” or “. . . how it might seem that . . .”
  2. 1. Set limits or express your feelings respectfully, “I feel . . .” or “I’ve decided to . . .” Just speak for yourself, without attacking what they’re doing. That causes others to feel defensive or offended.
   2. Remain firm in your decision. Don’t defend or explain yourself, unless someone is truly interested in your opinion.

 

Chapter  15:  Three  C’s:  Consistency,  Criticism,  Confidence                                                        417

 

If people don’t realize how critical they sound and are willing to change, set up a signal. When we use the Universal Blueprint, people who are unintentionally hurting us usually hear our concerns and don’t want to hurt us again. They may agree to a hand signal, word, or phrase you can use whenever they blame or criticize, to help them change this habit.

Use a “one-liner.” If you react to criticism like me, you stand there stunned with your jaw dropped to the floor. Over the next week, you think of a million things you “should have” said. At these times, it helps to have some are quick, assertive, respectful responses you can choose:

  • “We’ve researched this and discussed it and we’ve decided . . .” Or “I know it might not work for everyone, but we’ve decided . . .” Once people realize you are making a conscious choice to handle a situation this way, they often back off, even if they disagree with your decision.
  • Say you’ll consider their opinion the next time you and your partner discuss it. You can choose to give the idea some thought . . . even if only for one second!
  • Accept your mistakes and faults, without apologizing. “You’re right; I made a mistake. I know better than to do that.” Use this when you agree that the other person is right.
  • Calmly acknowledge that there is “probably some truth” in what they said. You are agreeing in principle only, without making any commitment one way or another to change.
  • When asked a “Why do you do ____?” question, respond with “Why do you ask?” instead of defending yourself. It may cause the person to think about their motives and whether they want to admit their reasons.
  • Agree to disagree. Say you’re not willing to discuss the issue and change the subject.
  • Ignore the cut. Forgive and forget. If you’re not ready for that, let the person know you heard there mark (“Umm-hmm”) but don’t respond further.
  • Use humor. If someone says, “You still haven’t lost your weight from the baby!” a woman can reply, “Yeah, I’m still trying to pass for pregnant so I can get special treatment.” We can also simply agree with no excuse, “Yeah, I’m in no hurry to lose it.” One graduate’s mother-in-law asked her, “How long are you going to breastfeed him anyway?” Her reply was, “Well, what do you think they have recess for?” Her mother-in-law realized how ridiculous her question was and never brought it up again.

When  to  Set  Limits

If you have consistently used respectful communication skills and the person is intentionally trying to hurt you or undermine your parenting, you may need to set limits. Try setting less restrictive limits first, in the following order:

  1. Remind the person that you need support more than you need criticism. Reveal that you will not respond to criticism. If your children are the targets of criticism and it hurts their feelings, try to explain to them in nonjudgmental, understanding words that some people don’t know nicer ways to say how they feel. Teach your children how to let the comments “roll off their backs.”
  2. Set guidelines for your visits with this person, such as what you are willing to discuss, how you plan to handle situations, or how you expect others to treat you or your children. Set time limits for the visits. If difficult people from out-of-town want to visit, limit the visit to a few days or arrange to have them stay at a nearby hotel. (I know, this is an expensive option, but the alternative—having a nervous breakdown or major blow-up—would make it worth seriously considering.)

 

418                                                                                                                 The  Parent’s  Toolshop

 

  1. If they are unwilling to respect your bottom-line limits, you may need to leave or keep visits on “your turf,” where your family rules are in effect. If you’ve revealed your expectations and they criticize you again, say “We need to be going now” and leave (even if it’s abrupt). This emphasizes your willingness to follow through with your intentions. If the criticizer wants to visit you, say, “You can come to visit if . . .” Use the assertive communication skills you learned to keep the blame out of your statements. If they violate your family rules, you have every right to say, “I think it’s time for you to go.”
Even within our own families we sometimes need to set these kinds of limits. The bottom line is to do what you can to resolve these conflicts peacefully and assertively, but be willing to do what is best for you and your children’s mental and emotional health. To decide whether you should compromise your rights, ask yourself the following questions:
  • How important is this issue to me?
  • If I compromise my rights, will I violate my values, principles, or feelings of self-worth?
  • How will I feel later if I compromise?
  • How much will it cost me if I compromise? (time, energy, self-respect, money.)

Let’s practice a few examples of responding to criticism and unhelpful advice. The practice exercises and the answers are in the middle of the chapter this time, so we can end our tour with a final booster shot of confidence.

 

PRACTICE  EXERCISES

A.  Correcting Myths about Parenting

Remember the true/false quiz you took in the beginning of the book? Every answer was totally or partially “false.” The following exercise lists these myths again. Recall all that you’ve learned on this tour and rewrite the myths so they are true statements. Possible revisions follow the exercise.

    Myth 1   Parents should attend parenting classes when having problems with their children.
    Myth 2   Parent educators tell parents what they are doing wrong and how to raise children the right way.
    Myth 3   Whenever parents use an effective parenting skill, they should see it work right away. 
    Myth4    Children should not be the center of the family; the parent should.
    Myth 5   Democratic parenting is too permissive and only works with certain kinds of children. 
    Myth 6  

It is the parent’s job to control children’s behavior. 

    Myth 7  

Parents need to immediately react to a problem to effectively resolve it. 

    Myth 8   When parents stop children’s misbehavior, the problem usually goes away.
    Myth 9   Parents can encourage children by giving them lots of praise and rewards.
    Myth10   When parents let children know they are proud of them, children feel parents are giving them credit for their accomplishments.
    Myth11    Sometimes it’s helpful to offer constructive criticism to help children improve.
    Myth12   Children should obey their parents because they are adults in authority. When children ask “Why should I?” parents only need to say, “Because I said so.”
    Myth13   Behavior charts with stars or rewards foster internal motivation.

 

Chapter  15:  Three  C’s:  Consistency,  Criticism,  Confidence                                                        419

 

  Myth 14  When parents give children choices, children think they should have a choice about everything
  Myth 15 All toddlers go through a “no” stage; it’s a normal part of childhood.
  Myth 16 Parents should give children more independence when they show they can handle it.
  Myth17 When children struggle with simple tasks, it helps to say, “You can do it if you try harder.”
  Myth 18 When children have problems, parents should help solve them.
  Myth 19 When children aren’t doing their homework, parents should set up a homework schedule, make sure they stick to it, supervise their work, and sign off on it every day.
  Myth 20 People get angry because other people and events are out of their control.
  Myth 21 Children know how to push their parents’ buttons because they program and control them.
  Myth 22 When children misbehave, parents should show their disappointment so the children will want to change. 
  Myth 23 When parents repeatedly tell children to stop misbehaving and they don’t stop, parents can assume their children know how to behave better.
  Myth 24 Children misbehave to get what they want or sometimes just to get on their parents’ nerves.
  Myth 25 When misbehaving children need to “learn a lesson,” parents should make sure they suffer a little, to drive home their point.
  Myth 26 When parents want children to behave, they should threaten to punish the children.
  Myth 27 Timeouts should be one minute for every year of age. Children should be isolated in an unpleasant or boring place and not allowed to play. 
  Myth 28 Parents should call a family meeting when there is a problem.
  Myth 29 Every family member votes on decisions in family meetings.
  Myth 30 Parents should be consistent. If they say they are going to punish their children, they need to follow through, even if they realize later they overreacted.
  Myth 31 Inconsistent parenting is damaging. Effective parenting partners do things the same way. 

 

B.    Responding to Criticism

  1. The Greer’s are visiting friends. Five-year-old Jason begins misbehaving at the dinner table. Mrs. Greer, who has learned balanced parenting techniques, disregards those approaches and sternly scolds Jason, “You need to obey me. Now settle down!” The child stops for a few minutes, but begins again. This time, Mrs. Greer excuses herself, takes Jason to another room, and closes the door. She returns to the table and apologizes to Mrs. Payne. Mrs. Payne says, “You ought to just spank him. That would teach him to behave!”
    a.  Why might Mrs. Greer have violated her child-rearing principles?
    b.  Why was she embarrassed?
    c.  What other alternatives, consistent with balanced principles, were available?
    d.  How can she respond to Mrs. Payne’s advice?
  1. Mr. Trent is at a park with a friend and the friend’s child, Tony, 7. Mr. Trent’s child, Melissa, 7, gets into a tug of war with Tony over the only remaining swing. Although they are having a conflict, no one is really getting hurt. Mr. Trent wants to wait and see if the children will work out the problem

 

420                                                                                                                 The  Parent’s  Toolshop

 

without his interference. Tony’s father says, “Aren’t you going to do something about Melissa? She’s trying to take that swing away from Tony?” What can Mr. Trent say or do?

  1. Mrs. Salyer’s parents are visiting when the ice cream truck comes down the street. Holly, 8, comes to get money from her mother. Mrs. Salyer reminds Holly that she already chose to spend her allowance on a toy and refuses to give her more money. Mrs. Salyer’s father says, “Oh, come on, let her have some ice cream.” The mother tells him that she and Holly have an agreement that she is to use her allowance for things such as ice cream. The grandfather pulls a dollar bill from his wallet and gives it to Holly, who hurries out the door to catch the ice cream truck. What can Mrs. Salyer do or say to the grandfather and/or to Holly later?
  2. Mr. White and Jesse, 4, are in the grocery store. While Mr. White puts the food on the conveyor belt, Jesse tries repeatedly to climb out of the cart. When Mr. White tries to get him to stay in the cart, Jesse throws a tantrum at the check-out line. Everyone is looking at Mr. White disapprovingly because his child is being so loud and disruptive. What can Mr. White do or say?
  3. Mrs. Carson’s son, Tommy, 3, isn’t potty-trained. When Mrs. Carson’s mother-in-law sees her changing his diaper, she says, “You know, if you had been trying to teach him to go on the potty when he was younger, he would be potty-trained by now. All my kids were potty-trained by the time they were two year’s old!” What can Mrs. Carson do or say?
  4. Mr. and Mrs. Rose and Mark, 6, are having dinner with Mrs. Rose’s parents. Mark is a very skinny boy who doesn’t eat much. He also doesn’t like many foods, but what he eats is nutritious. During dinner, his grandparents tell Mark he doesn’t eat enough and tell his parents they are concerned about him. Mrs. Rose explains that she has discussed his weight and eating habits with his doctor, who agrees that there is nothing to worry about. The grandmother says to Mrs. Rose, “You are the parent here, it is your responsibility to make sure he eats well. If you don’t do something soon, Mark’s going to be malnourished!” What can Mrs. Rose do or say?


Possible  Answers

A.  Correcting Myths about Parenting

These are possible “true” revisions and the chapters in which you can find them.

  Truth 1 Parenting classes can benefit anyone. Ideally, parents take parenting classes before serious problems develop. (Chapters 1 and 15) 
  Truth 2 A parenting instructor points out what parents are doing right, the options they have, and information about the positive or negative effects of all their choices. (Chapter 1) 
  Truth 3 Certain parenting skills are most effective if  parents use them for certain types of problems and present them in specific, effective ways. It may take time to see results. (Chapter 1) 
  Truth 4 No individual family member or relationship should be the center of the family. Each relationship’s needs are equally important, but different. (Chapter 2) 
  Truth 5 Democratic parenting is a balance between choices and limits. Parents set limits, but offer the child choices within those limits. Democratic parenting benefits all children, despite their personality or behavior traits. (Chapter 2) 
  Truth 6 A parent’s job is to teach their children how to be self-controlled. (Chapter 2)
  Truth 7 It is better to stop and think first, before responding to a problem. (Chapter 3) 
 

Truth 8

Misbehavior is a symptom of a deeper problem; that issue needs to be resolved or misbehavior will reappear. (Chapter 3) 

 

 Chapter  15:  Three  C’s:  Consistency,  Criticism,  Confidence                                                     421


 

Truth 9

Descriptive encouragement is more effective than praise and stimulates internal  motivation.(Chapter 4)

 

Truth 10

Parents want to focus on the child’s feeling by saying, “I bet you feel proud of yourself” or “I bet it feels good to know you could (describe accomplishment).” (Chapter 4)

 

Truth 11

Parents want to describe what children do right and ask them how or if they could improve. Pointing out faults or mistakes is not encouraging, it is discouraging. (Chapter 4)

 

Truth 12

Children need to respect all people, not just adults and parents. They need to understand the value of the rules so they will voluntarily follow them. (Chapter 5)

 

Truth 13

Behavior charts foster external motivation, unhealthy competition and further discourage those who struggle to succeed. (Chapters 4 and 5)

 

Truth 14

Parents can give choices within limits, so children know they do not have a choice about  everything.  (Chapter  5)

   

Truth 15

Not all children go through a “no” stage. It depends on the child’s personality and how parents use “no.” (Chapter 5)

 

Truth 16

Parents will see whether children can handle more independence if given more freedom—not all at once, but staying one step ahead of their skills.

 

Truth 17

Parents want to acknowledge the difficulty so children feel excited if they do it and not so bad if they can’t. (Chapter 6)

 

Truth 18

When children have problems, parents can guide children to a solution, with F-A-X Listening, without taking over. (Chapter 7)

 

Truth 19

If children aren’t doing their homework, parents can use the Child Problem Toolbox to “keep the ball in their court,” brainstorm solutions, and hold children responsible for following through. (Chapter 8 )

 

Truth 20

My beliefs and interpretations about people and events determines whether I get angry. I have a choice about my beliefs and emotions. (Chapter 9)

 

Truth 21

Children don’t program parents’ trigger buttons, they just discover them. I can reprogram my buttons and control my reactions. (Chapter 9)

 

Truth 22

When we tell children we are disappointed in them, they feel discouraged and less motivated to improve themselves. (Chapter 10)

 

Truth 23

Just because we tell children “a million times” doesn’t mean they fully understand and have mastered the skills to behave appropriately. (Chapter 11)

 

Truth 24

Children misbehave because they are discouraged and confused about a positive way to meet their goals. (Chapter 12)

 

Truth 25

Children won’t learn if parents make them suffer. They can learn from discipline, without physical or emotional punishment. (Chapter 13)

 

Truth 26

If parents want children to behave and follow rules, they can explain the value of the rule, the child’s options, and the positive and negative effect of the child’s choices. Respectful discipline is the result of the child’s negative behavior  choices. (Chapter 13)

 

Truth 27

Effective time-outs teach self-control and healthy anger management skills. They are logically related to out-of-control behavior. The location is based on the child’s recharge style and the activities they engage in are decided by the type of anger energy they experience. The time-out lasts until the child has regained control. (Chapter 13)

 

422                                                                                                                 The  Parent’s  Toolshop 

 


Truth 28 Family councils need to occur weekly, before problems arise. (Chapter 14)
  Truth 29 Healthy families use consensus decision-making, because voting has a win/lose solution. “Losers” usually feel discouraged and often resist or sabotage the decision. Consensus decisions are win/win, because everyone agrees to the decision, even if they do not “get their way.” (Chapter 14)
  Truth 30 If parents are truly consistent, they will “get back on track” when they realize they have overreacted. Rather than just giving in, parents need to admit their mistake and restate the appropriate discipline, making sure it fits the “Four R’s.” (Chapter 15) 
  Truth31 Each parent can have a different, unique personal style of parenting within the balanced range. Only when inconsistencies are harmful, sabotage the other parent, or children can use them to manipulate, do the differences become more damaging to relationships. (Chapters 2 and 15) 

B.  Responding to Criticism

1.     a. Mrs. Greer might have temporarily abandoned her effective parenting because she felt embarrassed and pressured by her son misbehaving in someone’s home.
b. If she believes her son’s behavior is a reflection of her abilities as a parent, she will be more likely to react negatively.
c. She could have used quick reminders or talked to Jason privately before she lost her cool.
d. Mrs. Greer can either give Mrs. Payne a disapproving, but respectful, look or she can explain her beliefs (which she is not obligated to do). If she chooses to do this, she can be clear that these are her beliefs and Mrs. Payne does not have to agree.
2.     Mr. Trent can explain that he’s been teaching Melissa how to resolve problems and wants to see if she remembers what she’s learned. He can assure the other father that if Melissa chooses not to handle the problem respectfully, he will say something. If this happens, Mr. Trent can do brief peer mediation, which will model positive skills to the other parent.
3.     Mrs. Salyer has two opposite response choices, depending on how important this issue is to her. She can acknowledge her father’s desire to “spoil” Holly and set limits, making it clear that she has already given Holly an answer and she expects him  to abide by it. If he disagrees with what she is doing, she would appreciate him telling her privately. She can also make it clear to Holly that their agreements and rules apply even when grandparents are there. This is the most likely approach if the grandfather visits regularly and his actions are regularly sabotaging Mrs. Salyer’s agreements with Holly. Another possibility would be to let Holly’s grandfather enjoy spoiling her. This option would most likely be appropriate if the grandfather rarely visits.
4.     Mr. White can ignore the other customers, offer choices within limits, and get Jesse involved in putting the groceries on the conveyor belt. If all his best efforts seem to fail, he can realize Jesse is probably tired from shopping and make the quickest exit he can after paying for his groceries. He may or may not choose to reveal discipline, shopping alone next time, depending on how often this has happened before.
5.     Mrs. Carson can say to her mother-in-law, “I know parents were told to do things differently when we were young. Although Tommy isn’t completely potty-trained, he’s making a lot of progress. He and I both feel better when he accomplishes things independently.”
6.     Mrs. Rose can change the subject away from Mark’s weight. She can also make encouraging comments to Mark. After dinner, she can thank her mother for her concern and make it clear to her mother that Mark’s weight and eating habits are not an acceptable dinner topic. She can even point out that Mark eats less when he is upset and that her comments might upset him. If her mother is not willing to agree to curb her comments, Mrs. Rose can suggest that she visit another time, besides dinner, for a while. This, however, would be a last resort measure.