Developing Self Esteem in Children: Handling Criticism


All of us want our children to be independent and self-assured. One the one hand we want them to listen to others’ opinions and accept good advice. On the other, we don’t want them to be naive and believe everything that others tell them. How do we help them develop that balance?


The first step is of course to evaluate our responses to criticism.

Is there anyone who hasn’t had to:

correct a mistake?
listen to some criticism (fair or otherwise)?
worry about what others say about us-our work, our person, our looks..?

When we are criticized, it makes us question ourselves. Self confidence and self esteem enable us to learn from the criticism. When parents recognize how they respond to criticism they are better able to help their children.

Ask yourself these questions to understand how you react to criticism

Are you able to assess factual reasons in the criticism and change yourself if need be?

What if the criticism is unfair because of other reasons?

Can you identify the other person’s motives?

How do you respond to unfair situations?

Do you speak up for yourself?

Do you develop good coping skills after the event to manage your anger or any other emotion that arises from the situation?

Do you know how to keep a check on any negativity?

When giving feedback start with praise

Always identify the positives first.

When you complement your child, keep it all about the work she/he put in.

“You caught the expression of surprise on the child’s face.”
“You worked on that project without giving up. That must have been hard.”
“You waited for your turn and answered only when your name was called.”

Statements that recognize effort reinforce behaviors we want the child to repeat because they highlight what the child did correctly. Start your commentary with ‘You’ and keep the focus on what the child did well.

Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism prompts children to correct themselves to improve their work or behavior. If adults use criticism to give vent to their frustration and anger, or to accuse, it doesn’t serve the purpose.

Before offering constructive criticism, adults should check to see if the expectations are realistic. Hold your thoughts for a minute so your first (sometimes instinctual) response is withheld! Think about how you will frame your sentence to comment on the child’s behavior or work. Then say it out loud.

Your questions to find out what happened should refer to the child’s work or behavior objectively using a conversational tone.

“You lost a few marks for this answer. Why do you think that happened? What did the teacher expect for his question? Does your answer cover that expectation? How are you going to prepare for it the next time?”

“This paper was late. Has this happened before? What was the reason for being late? What should you do to make sure you are on time? How can I help you so that you are on time?”

“What happened out there? You hit her…why? Did hitting her solve that problem? So what should you do differently the next time? What shall we do if you hit someone again?”

Self Evaluation

Children must learn to evaluate their own work realistically. This will in turn help them understand and accept constructive criticism. One way to do this is to ask questions that direct children to think about their performance.

How do you think you did on this…?
Tell me one good thing about your work…(or two or three)
Tell me one thing you’d do differently the next time


What do you think happened in this situation? Does it need to be changed?
Why? What will come out of that change?

Children will receive constructive criticism all through their lives—from us, peers, other authority figures, and coworkers. They have to learn that constructive criticism is not an attack on their person or ability but in fact serves to improve their performance.

At times, others do criticize children unfairly. That is the reality of life and brushing it as inconsequential doesn’t teach children how to handle it.

Empower your child to understand if the criticism was fair and if there is something positive to be gained from it.

Was the criticism relevant?

Will the correction make a difference to your work/experience?

How do you feel about this criticism? Did it make you feel uncomfortable or defensive?

Who is the person making the comment? Sometimes people in certain positions are able to see the bigger picture. It helps us know this person’s role to say “OK, maybe they know something I don’t.”

Dealing with unfair criticism

Sometimes people have their baggage, their agenda, and their prejudices. In those instances, validate your child’s emotions and discuss how to handle unfair criticism. When your child feels you are on his/her side it reduces the damage to your child’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

Teach your child to analyze the following:

How much impact does that person’s opinion have on your child?

How much time does your child spend analyzing the comment—what/why/how…?

In some situations, a person can criticize your child because of a power struggle with another adult. Is that the case here?

If it is a power struggle how should your child respond?

If need be teach your child how to disagree with the other adult appropriately.

Finally, emphasize the importance of moving on. This may be a particularly sensitive or difficult thing to do. Nevertheless, there is value in it because it enables the child to see that the fault lies with the other person and not with them.


Leave a Reply