“Why are we Always Criticizing our Children, and How can we get Past it?”

I read a wonderful article last week about parenting. The crucial question of the article was “why are we always criticizing our children, and how can we get past it?” I’d like to open this question up further, because the act of criticism isn’t merely affecting parents: why do we tend to criticize those who are closest to us so vehemently, and is there a more effective way to get what we want?

The Stinging Truth Behind ‘Negativity Bias’

The article, written for The Guardian, singles out a likely culprit for the reason why we tend toward criticism over praise, “negativity bias.” Negativity bias explains a tendency toward finding things, patterns, or events that are potentially dangerous or harmful as a way of protecting oneself and closest loved ones; a biological imperative to hone in on “what’s wrong” in a given situation, so that it doesn’t kill us. This is great if I’m living in the wilderness, or in a war-zone, or other environment when one wrong step can result in death. It’s a confusing and needless mental habit when it’s activated over a child cleaning their room, a co-worker doing a task in a slightly different manner than another, or a family member forgetting to pick up dinner on the way home.

The Why Behind a ‘Negativity Bias’

There’s a lot to unpack in terms of why a negativity bias is activated by relatively benign events, but simply put, anything that calls into question one’s feeling of safety, comfort or identity will hold a strong negativity bias. In the modern world, we’ve exchanged physical threats for psychological threats. Instead of the sounds of the forest cluing us to danger, the color of our car or cleanliness of our child gives our thoughts of what is “right” and “appropriate” validation. It’s an interesting phenomena, how our thoughts and opinions about our own identity help shape the things we see as “dangerous” to that identity. But, that’s another article. Let’s look at a specific tool which can be used to overcome this tendency when working with others.

Strength Based Leadership/Strength Based Parenting

To overcome tendency toward negativity bias, and the thought that someone else’s behavior “needs to be fixed,” many parents, and leaders are using a positive strategy called “strength-based leadership” or “strength-based parenting.” By focusing on other’s strengths I begin to see how others may naturally go about something differently, or place different priority on responsibilities, tasks, relationships, etc. It also gives insight into how to facilitate a change – especially with parenting, but with all leadership, it is often difficult to figure out how to enact a change in behavior, this is often because someone’s natural inclination towards doing something a certain way is not capitalized as part of the change.

Strengths Have Multiple Defining Characteristics

A strength is not merely something someone is good at. This is important. Psychologists define strengths as having 3 different characteristics: high performance (you do something well), high energy (you do something very happily), and high use (you do something often). Strengths can be character/personality based, such as being charismatic or compassionate, or they can be talent-based, such as artistic, or athletic.

Parents and Leaders Using Strengths to Find Where Children or Team Members May Thrive

More and more parents and leaders are using strengths to find where and how their children or coworkers/team members can thrive. By maximizing someone’s ability to thrive, most of their work is likely to be successful. When negativity bias rears its ugly head after a child doesn’t do a chore, or forgets to do their homework, or someone habitually takes a longer lunch than they should, consider how their strengths (instead of your opinion on the “right” way) could influence them being able to accomplish the task at hand in a mutually satisfactory way. For instance, if your child is athletic, why not set up an exercise program around household chores, or give them chores that are more labor intensive (I know for me, personally, the more physically demanding things are around the house, the more I enjoy doing them). If a child has social strength (they like to socialize), perhaps the best way for them to get their homework done is to have a friend over.

Many Resources Available

There are many resources available to help you find your strengths and those of your children or people closest to you. It can be a fun activity, as it pertains to YOU. It’s also a wonderful method to foster an atmosphere of respect and validation – if these differences are honored and respected.

Image Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_stokkete’>stokkete / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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