Saturday, November 6, 2010

(Constructive) criticism , blame , cps and sdt

In my humble opinion, there is no such thing as constructive criticism. Criticism is poison to relationships like sugar is to teeth. It does not help to say to kids ' I love you, but not your actions.' Kids don't make that distinction. Criticism is about blame, and can easily be perceived as a form of punishment and rejection. Using praise and expressions of approval can be also a form of punishment when it is given contingent on what kids do.

Alfie Kohn in his book ' Unconditional Parenting explains –

Nearly half a century ago, the pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers offered an answer to the question "What happens when a parent's love depends on what children do?" He explained that those on the receiving end of such love come to disown the parts of themselves that aren't valued. Eventually they regard themselves as worthy only when they act (or think or feel) in specific ways. This is basically a recipe for neurosis - or worse. A publication by the Irish Department of Health and Children (which has been circulated and adopted by other organizations all over the world) offers ten examples to illustrate the concept of "emotional abuse." Number two on the list, right after "persistent criticism, sarcasm, hostility or blaming," is "conditional parenting, in which the level of care shown to a child is made contingent on his or her behaviors or actions.''

Kids who are blamed and criticized by parents will in return learn to blame others and especially their parents for their failures, difficulties and misfortunes. Parents complain that kids never want to admit that they did something wrong. For parents this is the meaning of taking responsibility, taking the blame and being accountable. If we take out ' blame ', we are promoting a ' No fault ' society and we don't want that.

Parents put a lot of energy in trying to get kids 'admit what they did'. Kids generally will resist this as it feels like a punishment, humiliation and certainly does not make them feel good. Is it necessary for kids to first feel bad in order for them to improve themselves? Is taking the blame a precondition for taking responsibility and solving problems? Maybe getting rid of the word ' blame ' will enable kids to go beyond ' I am to blame ' and actually solve the problem and engage in the moral act of restitution.

In order to avoiding criticizing kids and get rid of the word ' blame', we need to have a different perspective about misbehavior, infractions and unmet expectations. If we have a fixed mindset and have house rules, it is highly likely that when these rules are broken , we will be obliged to issue a consequence , punishment or some verbal reprimand or criticism. If we have a ' growth mindset' , that 'mistakes' are our friends and opportunities for learning , we will engage in CPS collaborative problem solving to solve problems and unmet expectations. When we offer compassion and understanding when kids fail, we teach them that we all can make mistakes, that we all make mistakes, and in many instances we learn only through making mistakes. Just as we can make mistakes , we can fix them. As Dr Greene says ' Children do well if they can ' and not ' children do well if they want to ' , so forget about reprimanding them and instead help them come up with a better plan.

June Tangney explains that people who blame themselves end up blaming others. We often hear how some people end an argument or discussion by saying ' I am to blame '. They are in fact offering a solution to a problem – blame me, let me take the responsibility for what happened. Because this does not solve the problem, they eventually look for someone else to blame.

Now we as people do experience some emotion when we have done something wrong or have not acted according to our values. We will respond in different ways, depending on the emotion. June Tangney suggests that ' shame' leads to a person feeling bad about the ' self' making themselves into objects.

The person says ' How could '' I '' do that?

When a person experiences guilt he says ' How could I do THAT ?

The focus is no longer on the self but on the action. Feelings of shame leads to blaming oneself. Feelings of guilt leads to problem solving.

Instead of (constructive ) criticism why not do some CPS – collaborative problem solving. An important part of solving problems is ' externalizing the problem ' – separating the problem from the self as an object and focusing on the self as a process.

We internalize our values and externalize problems.

Blaming others is a bad position to work from. One will always be stuck with a belief that ' your mother is to blame ' for your difficulties.

"Placing the blame or judgment on someone else

leaves you powerless to change your experience.

Taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgments

gives you the power to change them." Byron Katie

Blaming yourself does not help either. It focuses on the past and you the object who needs to be done to – reprimanded , criticized . Blame and self- criticism prevent one from dealing with the future.

Accountability and taking responsibility for some parents means ' Getting a child to admit they did wrong' and usually means they need to suffer more pain. This focuses on the self as an object.

When kids are not subjected to a controlling and a judgmental environment they feel more autonomous. Autonomy and being unconditionally accepted by teachers and parents is crucial for kids' moral development, being able to externalize problems, internalize values ,take responsibility and solve problems.

Alfie Kohn – Unconditional Teaching article

In an illuminating passage from her recent book Learning to Trust (2003), Marilyn Watson explained that a teacher can make it clear to students that certain actions are unacceptable while still providing “a very deep kind of reassurance – the reassurance that she still care[s] about them and [is] not going to punish or desert them, even [if they do] something very bad.” This posture allows “their best motives to surface,” thus giving “space and support for them to reflect and to autonomously engage in the moral act of restitution” – that is, to figure out how to make things right after doing something wrong. “If we want our students to trust that we care for them,” she concludes, “then we need to display our affection without demanding that they behave or perform in certain ways in return. It’s not that we don’t want and expect certain behaviors; we do. But our concern or affection does not depend on it.”

When we involve our kids in CPS, collaborative problem solving they are being far more accountable and responsible by being part of a solution that will solve the problem for ever. Blaming others or even yourself is just a form of punishment , destroys relationships and self esteem and leaves you with a problem not solved.

So instead of (constructive) criticism engage in CPS , instead of trying yo get your kids to admit what they did , just explain that there is a problem and that you would appreciate their input. They are more likely to respond positively to this request than admit that they are to blame.



  1. No doubt they are more likely to respond positively to such a request than admit they are to blame. This is not the point.

    The point is, when they are indeed to blame should we fool them with pretty words and manipulate them into behaving the way we want or give them some loving honesty instead?

    I'd rather be honest and not get much out of them then having to manipulate them in order to get what I want.

  2. Rosanna,
    My understanding is that from all the parenting approaches I know CPS is not all manipulative like the others

    here are some video clips of the process

    Alfie Kohn often says that it matters not what we teach but what they learn. Often the message they take home with them is completely different to what we said. Parenting in my humble opinion is about dealing with perceptions. When we Say the truth to a kid I fear he will hear something else. The truth that I want kids to hear , is those inner core values deep down inside of them and it is our job to help them connect with them.
    I discuss your concerns further in my next blog
    Thanks for your comment