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How to not be the naive parent who shields their child from adult criticism

Unfortunately even good parents make the fatal error rushing to their child’s aid when their child gets negative feedback from adults around them. This is one of the surest ways to cultivate narcissism in your kids in yet a common maneuver among overprotective and naïve parents.

Time and time again I see parents helicopter in to yank their child out of the situation that is distressing for their child. It may be that child has been harshly criticized by their coach, teacher, neighbor, or a stranger who witnesses inappropriate behavior.

It does not matter who the adult is, your role as a parent is to be a farmer and not helicopter pilot; your choices must always revolve around how best to help your child grow, not how best to save your child from distress. Sometimes the most distressing and painful situations are the ones we and they learn the most from!

Put this on your frig and remind your child (and have them see this statement) everyday: there is no growth without change, and no change without pain.

Whether or not you or your child agrees with a criticism, the first step should be either you or your child ensuring you learn about why a particular criticism was voiced. The older your child is, the more you want to have them directly talk with the person they receive the criticism from so they are learning to learn from criticism and handle confrontation directly.

Look around at your friends and coworkers, and what you’ll find is one of the rarest qualities is people who can handle criticism and confrontation. Walking that balance between advocating for yourself and being overly aggressive is one of the hardest challenges for humans, and very few people are masterfully skilled in this area.

Whether your child was old enough to directly talk with the person they were criticized by, or whether you checked in with the person who voiced the criticism because your child was too young to do this, here are several things you should NEVER do:

-defend your child’s behavior in a knee-jerk fashion
-fire criticisms back simply because you feel personally offended or embarrassed

Rather, reflect on the best process your child should go through in order to make amends and/or reestablish a trusting relationship with the person or group voicing the criticism.
And here are the components of an appropriate reaction on your child’s part and my tips for how to maximize the amount of growth your child undergoes each time they experience significant criticism:

-Have them genuinely and in a heartfelt manner apologize in a direct person-to-person way were they making eye contact with the person voicing the criticism or disappointment. This is a key part of them developing a moral conscience. You might read more about this in my blog entitled How to Help Ensure Your Child Develops a Conscience That Will Protect Them. Have you noticed that heartfelt apologies have become quite rare in our society? Even among adults. But the most successful people I know recognize that dealing with criticism appropriately is key to growing into their potential.

-Consistently discuss with your child how the only way to grow is to make mistakes and learn from criticism. Teach this from a very young age. Work on having your child even think people for giving them direct and honest input.

-Remind your child of times when you’ve been criticized by people and it opened the door to a new awareness about yourself that allowed you to grow in ways you would not otherwise have been able to.

-Be open to your child’s criticism of your parenting, such that even if your child is wrong, you still engage their criticism in a way that models healthy way of reacting to criticism. you can still be of very firm parent in yet use finesse as you discuss their criticism. Remember, children don’t do what we say, they do what we do.

I am sure there are many who are reading this blog who have openly communicated criticism of other children and then dearly paid for it! Make sure that other parents, teachers, and coaches know that you always want to be receiving feedback on your child. I make a point at the beginning of every school year to e-mail a teacher and let them know that I welcome all of their feedback positive or negative. That is a proactive way of opening up a very useful pipeline.

That opens the door for you and your child to avoid living in the fantastical and narcissistic bubble that many children grow up in. Don’t let your child become one of the children who don’t get honest feedback and criticism until they are interviewing for their first job, which they don’t get.

There are plenty of narcissistic young adults (who are still adolescents) now on their parents couches and I have a feeling this trend will only broaden until we reach a point in society where taking responsibility for your own actions is a more predominant message than a rampant entitlement philosophy eroding our cultural fabric.

To those parents who courageously accept the reasonable criticism their child gets from other adults, I salute you!

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Meet Doctor Brunner

Dr. Thomas (Tom) Brunner is a Tucson based psychologist and published expert who has a 20 year track record of clinical excellence, scientific research, teaching, publications, awards and podcast interviews.  He is the senior author of a psychological measure adapted into 14 languages worldwide, and has written over 250 blogs, many of them have gone viral.  He is revolutionizing the field of career guidance with his fresh and trademarked approach that is spreading like wildfire. Sign up here to be notified of soon to be published book, Find Your Real Me: Career Guidance Making You Truly Free.