Being a parent means guiding and shaping our child’s behavior. Providing children with feedback—both praise and suggestions on how they can improve—is necessary. But how many times has our (well-intentioned) feedback and advice been met with a blank stare? Or worse, a negative and defensive reaction?
It’s only natural for children to resist feedback, especially when it’s corrective. Studies show being critiqued can feel threatening, triggering the fight-flight-freeze stress response. At the same time, we know sharing constructive, meaningful feedback is one of the most effective ways to learn and grow. Accepting feedback is linked to a host of benefits, from higher self-esteem and improved relationships to getting better at what we do.
Fortunately, there are simple ways to provide feedback and keep your child open and engaged—and able to gain its many rewards. Check out these seven helpful tips for delivering constructive feedback, so your child can grow and persevere.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our FREE Your Words Matter Kit. With these 10 popular parenting guides, you will know exactly how to speak to your children to help them develop confidence, internal motivation, and a can-do attitude.
1. Pause Before You Give Feedback
We would like the best for our children, and we share our opinions to help them improve, learn, and grow. But giving feedback is more art than science, so it’s crucial to pause and reflect before speaking.
First, take a moment to reflect on the necessity and intent of your words.
You might consider:
- Is this feedback productive or is this my opinion/complaint?
- What is my goal with this feedback?
- Is it necessary? What would happen if I didn’t give it?
- Does this feedback align with my values?
- Will this help my child be the best version of themselves?
After time for self-reflection, you may decide your feedback is essential. If not, and you find you are simply frustrated or need to vent, choose another time to share your opinion (if it needs to be voiced at all).
When in doubt, you may also reflect on the “3 Gates” technique of speech: Are my words true? Are they helpful? Are they kind? By pausing to reflect on these questions, you can be certain your words will be well-received.
2. Focus on the “How”
Recognize that giving feedback requires mindfulness and compassion. How we deliver feedback to our children is every bit as important as what we say.
To accept feedback from us, our child must first feel a sense of trust. When they know we have their best interests at heart, it’s much easier to receive criticism as supportive versus a personal attack.
Here are a few more things to consider:
- Balance positive feedback with negative feedback (five positives to every 1 negative)
- Share constructive feedback privately (not in the presence of others)
- Give positive feedback regularly (“catch them being good”)
You might also consider the “feedback sandwich” technique. The “sandwich” is a gentle critique placed between two positive phrases: “The breakfast you made was lovely! Perhaps you could put your plates in the sink too. I really enjoyed eating with you and can’t wait to see what you make next!”
Tip: This strategy should be used sparingly, and only when sincere!
3. Make Sure Your Feedback Is Specific
Not all feedback is created equal. For feedback to be constructive, it must also be specific and user-friendly.
It’s common to give vague or general praise when trying to protect our child’s feelings. But phrases like “Good job” or “You’re so smart” aren’t actually helpful at home (or in the classroom).
Despite our good intentions, it turns out children don’t like it either. In a study of high school students’ performance, they cited unclear and general feedback as the most frustrating aspects of teacher input.
Before giving your child feedback, consider this rule of thumb: if your words could be applied to any other child’s performance, they’re likely too general.
Instead, take note of what went well, and how your child’s efforts or performance have changed since the last time you provided feedback. Provide information your child can reflect on (“Remember when you thought adding fractions was really difficult? Today I saw you do them with no trouble.”)
4. Ask for Permission and Give Control
Even with the best of intentions, our feedback sometimes backfires. We may be left scratching our heads, wondering what went wrong.
In his study of why feedback is sometimes counterproductive, psychologist Edward Deci identified feeling controlled as a key cause of resistance.
So how do we overcome this? How do we help our children feel empowered by our feedback?
Start by asking for permission. You might say, “I have some information that could be helpful. How open are you to hearing it?” or "I would like to give you some advice. It is just information and it is up to you what you would like to do with the information."
- Avoiding the use of “YOU” statements (“Here’s what you should do” or “Here’s what you need to improve”)
- Using “I” statements (“Here’s what I would do” or “Here’s what worked best for me”)
- Asking for their ideas (“What do you think you did well?” or “Have you considered trying it a different way?”)
Giving your child control over the feedback process will also help them problem-solve and plan for the future. If your child is stressed by waiting until the last minute to do homework, ask how it felt to wait and what strategies they might use to feel less overwhelmed next time.
Don't forget to download our FREE Your Words Matter Kit with 10 helpful parenting guides and tips to use when speaking to your children.
5. Support Growth Mindset by Focusing on the Process
We know a growth mindset is a key to accepting feedback. With a growth mindset, children see challenges help their brain grow, and mistakes and failure are steps in the learning process.
A growth mindset gives a child the ability to reflect on the feedback they receive, and to evaluate what—if anything—can be learned from it. Children know they don’t always have to take criticism, but can make thoughtful choices and keep an open mind.
To support your child’s growth mindset, focus on the process rather than the final result. Praise the effort and hard work that went into their successes, and celebrate mistakes as an opportunity to learn.
The Big Life Journal and The Big Life Kids Podcast are two wonderful resources to kick off your growth mindset journey.
If you’re concerned about the final outcome, consider the following questions instead:
- Are they growing and learning?
- Is their work improving?
- Are they making changes based on the feedback I (or others) have given?
Even with a growth mindset, it’s natural for your child to have big feelings about feedback. Tell them how you like to pause after receiving constructive criticism, and give yourself time to let the hurt subside. In time, they will grow more resilient and benefit from seeing themselves in a new way.
6. Focus on Actions Rather Than Their Personality
There are many reasons to focus on your child’s behavior and actions (rather than their personality or character) when delivering feedback.
We need to be certain they know they are lovable and enough as they are. By giving them feedback on their actions (“What you said sounded rude to me.”) rather than their personality (“You’re always so rude!”), we help them understand there’s nothing wrong with them.
Fortunately, Harvard’s Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) developed a simple tool to do just that. This strategy, known as the Situation-Behavior-Impact model, is easily adaptable for children.
Here are the 3 steps:
- Situation: note the time and place where a behavior occurred
- Behavior: describe the behavior (what you saw, heard, observed)
- Impact: note how the behavior affected your thoughts, feelings, or actions
For a younger child, this might look like: “At dinner tonight, when your sister accidentally took your cup (#1), you screamed and grabbed it back (#2). I felt frustrated and sent you to your room (#3).”
For an older child, it may look like: “This morning when we were talking about our vacation (#1), you interrupted Jessica while she was talking and said, ‘That’s stupid,’ before she had a chance to finish (#2). This left me feeling disappointed I wasn’t able to hear more from her (#3).”
Next, encourage your child to reflect on the situation and set a goal for future behavior. Because your feedback was neither judgmental nor generalized, your words are more likely to be heard and considered by your child.
7. Model It
There are few better ways of helping your child accept feedback than modeling the behavior. If getting feedback is tricky for you, keep the practice fun!
First, set up a task your child can evaluate you in: cooking, letter writing, or a task of their choosing. Be playful, and allow them to judge you on specific aspects of your job. If you cook a meal, encourage your child to critique the meal presentation, taste, and originality!
Actively seek out feedback with questions such as “What do you think of this?” and “What could I do better next time?”
Afterward, discuss how their feedback made YOU feel. Acknowledge it’s difficult to hear harsh things about our own work. Simultaneously, if people say our work is good when it isn’t, it ruins the opportunity to learn and improve.
Finally, recognize we model receiving (or resisting) feedback on a daily basis in our lives, work, and relationships. Your knowing how to manage criticism shows your child how to skillfully manage it too.
Looking for additional resources to support building grit and resilience in your child? The Build Your Frustration Tolerance Masterclass is a self-paced growth mindset parenting masterclass where you'll learn how to help your child push ahead and persevere instead of quitting or giving up at the slightest setback. You'll get lifetime access so you can go through all the materials at your own pace. Our expert parenting educators will give you specific tools and strategies to raise a child who has the CONFIDENCE AND DETERMINATION to overcome their frustration and persevere.
Rebecca Louick is an elementary school counselor and mom of two incredible girls. She holds a Master's Degree in Counseling from Villanova University. Rebecca is passionate about helping children and families develop the skills they need for a full, happy life. She knows of no greater superpower than a growth mindset, and is often heard saying her favorite word: yet!
9 thoughts on “7 Tips to Give Effective Feedback to Your Child”
March 17, 2021 at 19:50pm
March 17, 2021 at 19:50pm
Susan Kenney says:
June 11, 2020 at 18:59pm
angela wagner says:
June 11, 2020 at 19:00pm
Bexy Carina Mostacero Plasencia says:
March 17, 2021 at 19:22pm
Can I be added to the mailing list please.
I would love to have these printables
Parent help for growth mindset , kindness community kit , different moods And feelings
Script for validations
How to help stress kids
Help kids to set a goal or develop intrinsic motivation
How to talk such that it wont cone as controlling
Praise vs encouragement
Great printables! Thanks!
Thank you so much. This was soo needed! As a parent and a teacher.
Gracias me sera de gran ayuda con mi pequeña desde Peru.