Criticism Comes Easier Than Forgiveness or Compassion
Being critical of your children’s behavior stems from a belief that criticism is necessary in helping them grow up well. When you criticize your kids, you are attempting to exert control over their behavior in order to improve it. Is there a better way to do this?
Professor Kelly McGonigal’s research on willpower has found that forgiveness and compassion are more powerful than criticism. In her book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It
, McGonigal explains “As soon as I mention self-forgiveness in class, the arguments start pouring in. You would think I had just suggested that the secret to more willpower was throwing kittens in front of speeding buses. ‘If I’m not hard on myself, I’ll never get anything done.’ ‘If I forgive myself, I’ll just do it again.’ ‘My problem isn’t that I’m too hard on myself - my problem is that I’m not self-critical enough!’ To many people, self-forgiveness sounds like excuse-making that will only lead to greater self-indulgence.
According to McGonigal, "Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression, which drains both 'I will' power and 'I want' power.
She goes on to say “Surprisingly, it’s forgiveness, not guilt that increases accountability. Researchers have found that taking a self-compassionate point of view on a personal failure makes people more likely to take personal responsibility for the failure than when they take a self-critical point of view. They also are more willing to receive feedback and advice from others, and more likely to learn from the experience.
” Compassion Works Better Than Criticism
Let’s consider a couple situations and compare responding with criticism to responding with compassion.
Suppose your child comes home with a poor math grade, how might you respond?
- Criticism: “That grade is a disgrace. You’re not trying hard enough. How will you get anywhere in life if you can’t do better than that?”
- Compassion: “Oh, that’s not the grade you wanted. What’s your plan for improving it?”
What if your child spills a glass of juice?
- Criticism: “Look at the mess you’ve made! You need to be more careful!”
- Compassion: “Oops! Let’s get a rag and clean it up.”
If you were the child in these situations, how would each response make you feel?
Neff explains why compassion is more effective than criticism, “So why is self-compassion a more effective motivator than self-criticism? Because its driving force is love not fear. Love allows us to feel confident and secure (in part by pumping up our oxytocin), while fear makes us feel insecure and jittery (sending our amygdala into overdrive and flooding our systems with cortisol). When we trust ourselves to be understanding and compassionate when we fail, we won’t cause ourselves unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Compassion Towards Your Kids Begins with Compassion Towards Yourself
If you want to be more compassionate and forgiving towards your children, start with how you treat yourself. One mom said she realizes that when she is being compassionate with herself, it is much easier for her to also be compassionate with her son. When she is critical of herself, she also is more likely to be critical of him.
Now that you know the power of compassion and forgiveness try being more compassionate with yourself. Your self-compassion will bring out your best for yourself and your kids!