Why to Coach Instead of Criticize

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Are you planting seeds with your child today that can grow with his growth? Or are you cultivating weeds that will get in his way?

It can be tempting to focus on what a child does wrong. It can be tempting to criticize: to show the error of his ways, to point out faulty thinking, and to lecture about unfavorable outcomes. But this approach generally just impedes the child’s healthy development, like weeds getting in the way of a plant’s healthy growth.

Another approach is to simply offer information. Information can be given about what the child did, what happened, what other options were available, and what the alternative outcomes might have been—and then provide narration in real time, in a benevolent and instructional manner, as the child tries again. This approach is like planting seeds that facilitate the child’s healthy development.

The difference between taking the two approaches is the difference between being a critic and a being coach. The critic might berate a child for knocking over a vase, demand an explanation for the child’s carelessness, and give a sermon on the value of the broken vase. The coach provides information in ways that are helpful. The coach might find out what the child did, verbalize which choices resulted in the broken vase, offer ways it could be prevented next time, and then get involved with repairing the vase with the child.

There are several reasons why giving information like a coach works better than giving criticisms like a critic. A few are highlighted below.

Criticism is emotionally negative, while information is neutral.

Criticism makes a child feel unworthy.  Why does this matter? Because feelings of unworthiness can lead to unworthy behaviors.

The child who is mocked, disregarded, or chided by his parent may become angry or fearful. He may retaliate against the source of his anger, his parents, every chance he gets. Or he may become fearful of his parents, which can incentivize him to conform to his parents’ expectations when monitored, but to behave differently when left to his own devices. He may develop sophisticated methods to get away with doing things without getting caught.

By contrast, information cannot impose negative self-assessments on a child. It can’t impose any assessments at all. It is not a judgement on the child or on anything. Information just is. It is neutral. It doesn’t force itself on the child. Through words of encouragement, a coach can even impart information with some positive emotional energy. But mostly, information is merely available for a child’s consumption whenever he is ready for it. That quality gives information a great deal of potential.  

Criticism is personal, while information is not.

Criticism is linked to the both the criticizer and the criticized. As just discussed, it is a negative assessment of the criticized. It may become the child’s own self-assessment, but it was still imposed upon the child by the criticizer. Even when the child internalizes the criticism, it is as if by the will of the criticizer.  

Contrast this with information, which is factual and unbiased. Facts weren’t authored by anyone. They are not a painting with someone signature in the corner. They at once belong to no one and everyone. This is important because when a child internalizes information, it becomes an authentic part of his being; he owns it.

Criticism is controlling, while information is empowering.

Because criticism is personal, and linked to the criticizer, whatever behaviors arise from it arise from the force of the criticizer. Criticism is a controlling tactic. It strips the criticized of his volition.

By contrast, giving information is an autonomy supportive tactic. When a child uses neutral information to enact good behaviors, it is unambiguously because the child elected to do so. There is no parental-induced shame or guilt attached to it. The child can perceive that his behaviors are from within. With nobody else pulling the strings, the child is free to direct is development of his own accord.

Weeds and Seeds

Development is a natural process of life. We are continually exposed to new information as we go through life. Assimilating that information into our psyches and organizing it for optimal effectiveness are the crucial steps for this natural and never-ending process.

Criticism interferes with this process. It acts like weeds that choke out the growth of other plants by using up the soil’s valuable nutrients. A child cannot concentrate on doing things right when he is preoccupied with harsh reminders of what he has done wrong. Criticism is also a means to control a child’s behavior, like weeds that physically restrain a plant from growing to its natural potential.

Information, by contrast, is like seeds. It contains all the ingredients needed for someone to grow. All it needs is a child’s internal energy and natural will to develop. Free from the interference of a critic and with the help of a good coach, the information—and the child—can flourish.

How to Cite this Article: Brian Vondruska, “Why to Coach Instead of Criticize”, The Kind of Parent You Are, accessed [date], https://www.thekindofparentyouare.com/articles/coach.