Written by Doctor G

Teach Kids to Stop Criticizing Siblings

Israel 2012 458Any advice for kids (11, 9, and 6) who are constantly criticizing, correcting, and nagging each other? I think they are doing it because they want to be right, not because they are trying to be mean. They spend all day pecking at one another and it’s driving me crazy. Thank you!

Ann, in NY

This can easily make us parents nuts!

Your assessment that this behavior is not due to meanness is really helpful, you make it clear that this is not a bullying issue.

My first question for you is the same one I ask about sibling bickering: is it bothering the kids themselves? Or only the adults?

Siblings are really excellent at giving constant, honest feedback. “Are you wearing that?” “You sound like a donkey when you laugh and you spit, too!” “Why do you invite that kid over and then ignore them at school?” “I’m not playing that with you, you cheat!” A great deal of this feedback is hard to hear (especially for parents) but very useful for kids.

If your kids are dishing out and receiving in about the same proportion, and it’s not bugging them?

Ask your kids to stop nagging and criticizing around other people.

If you’re concerned that the behavior is damaging in some way, to one or more of your kids then do a “feedback assessment.” Does their conversation involve:

  • Starting with an excuse for disrespect? Like “no offense, but” or “I’m just being honest.”
  • Insults?
  • Ugly comparisons?
  • Scorn?
  • Too much repetition?

Put your finger on what bugs you about it.

Explain to your kids that feedback is useful, criticism is not. The difference is easy. We give feedback to help someone improve something because we care about their success. We give criticism because we want the satisfaction of proving how much more we know.

Then challenge your kids to give great feedback this way:

  1. Say it in your head first. Is it something that would hurt your feelings or would you be able to actually hear it and make a change? Use a tone of voice that you’d like someone else to use on you. Also, this helps to choose words carefully, and is a GREAT life skill.
  2. Start or end with a genuine compliment.

I should mention, that we can’t ask our kids to stop criticizing unless we’re willing to do the same. 🙂

This will sound to your kids like a lot of work, and it is! Anyone can criticize. Giving feedback is not for wimps.

Overall, we’re teaching our kids to respect each other. If they aren’t willing to do this work, that is OK. Then they’re just make the choice to keep their opinion to themselves.

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