Help for an Overly Critical Parent

How can I undo the damage I've caused by being too harsh with my children? I realize that I've been overly critical in my attitude toward them, and the results are now beginning to surface. How do we turn this around?

As a first step, try stating the obvious to your children. Say something like, “Your mom and I have made a mistake. We’ve been overly critical with you kids. We’ve placed too high a standard on ourselves. As a result we’ve done the same thing to you.” Cite a couple of specific instances. Then bring the message home by concluding, “We’re really sorry. Will you please forgive us?”

Eating humble pie is never easy, but by God’s grace it can lead to some of the most precious teachable moments you’ll ever experience as a parent. In this case, it will give your children a concrete example of servant leadership and an unforgettable lesson on the meaning of mercy and grace.

The damage can be reversed if you make the effort to set a different kind of example. Pay attention to the standards you set for yourselves. Let your kids see that you and your wife can accept yourselves (and each other) even with all your flaws. Embrace each other’s little quirks (unless, of course, those “quirks” are actual sins).

In conversations with your children, pay special attention to their feelings. If they put themselves down or express a lack of self-confidence, avoid the temptation to shake them out of that mood with a sermon or pep-talk. It’s rarely helpful to say, “You shouldn’t think that way. Look at all the wonderful talents and abilities God has given you!” Instead, listen carefully and repeat back what you hear. Respond with something like, “It sounds as if you’re feeling insecure (disappointed with yourself, embarrassed, nervous, etc.). Is that right?” Let them know that you can relate to their feelings. Admit that you sometimes feel the same way yourself. In this way you will create an atmosphere of understanding, openness, and acceptance in which your children will be able to bloom and grow without fear of failure and disapproval.

If you’re dealing with a particularly stubborn child, the situation gets a bit more complex. It’s difficult to guess exactly what’s going on in their minds, but after seeing the high expectations that mom, dad, and even siblings have set for themselves, some kids give up in discouragement. Sometimes a child’s outward behavior is simply a mask for what he’s experiencing inside. Naturally, there should be consequences for a mere refusal to cooperate. But even here it would be helpful to avoid conflict as much as possible. We suggest you spend some time trying to get in touch with your child’s heart.

As always, if the family dynamics don’t turn around eventually you shouldn’t hesitate to seek professional assistance. Our staff counselors would be more than happy to take your call if you feel inclined to discuss this situation with them.


Grace-Based Parenting

Grace-Based Discipline

Why Christian Kids Rebel

Building Confidence in Your Child

Parenting With Words of Grace

John Rosemond: Parenting With Love and Leadership

Family and Home Network

Parenting Challenges

You May Also Like