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Sometimes those closest to us seem to receive more criticism—and criticism of a less-than-constructive quality. Unfortunately, we may unwittingly take advantage of the close relationship because we know the person so well. As a result, we may unfairly employ our fault-finding magnifying glass. Because we connect to the person, we may become less concerned with tact, diplomacy, or courtesy; the careful, reflective process we use before criticizing a stranger or co-worker is not considered necessary. Of course, this is a mistake. We sometimes believe we have carte blanche to “correct” those we love the most. However, this misguided approach can lead to resentment, hurt feelings, and emotional separation. Indeed, those whom we know and love the most deserve at least the same consideration we offer to relative strangers before we offer criticism.

Interestingly we seem to hurt the ones we love the most; because they love us, we do not expect them to change their feelings for us merely because we offer some “needed” criticism. A quick peek at the schedules of marriage counselors, and divorce attorneys might suggest otherwise. Nevertheless, the considerations for providing criticism to a spouse are no less critical than when we offer criticism to an employee, student, artist, athlete, and so forth.

Perhaps of equal or greater importance when offering criticism to our children—especially those very young and impressionable. Misguided correction and objection spoken out of anger rather than reflection can leave psychological scars that can be difficult to heal. Remember, offering productive criticism aims to help someone grow, recover, improve, prosper, or excel. Keep this goal in mind. Make sure you are mindful of the power of criticism to either harm or help.

When dealing with your children, as exasperated as you might become, the ultimate goal is to raise healthy, happy, competent, loving, and accepting children. The way you do that may require you to rethink your approach to giving criticism to those you love the most. The apostle Paul stressed the importance of providing a gentle correction. The question is not whether parents should criticize their children but how. The idea is to address what went wrong without causing them to feel terrible and crater their self-esteem. Perhaps saying something like, “You did this. Please don’t do that; we make mistakes; let’s work on this so as not to repeat it in the future.”

Before you offer criticism to a loved one, take a moment and examine your own heart. What is motivating you to provide this criticism? If it is anger or frustration, you may wish to wait until the emotionality subsides so that you can address the real issue that created those emotions in the first place. Before you criticize, consider what you want the outcome to be. In healthy relationships, the goal is to strengthen the bonds that tie, not to bind them. Finally, before you speak, try to ensure your words are well chosen and come from a compassionate, loving heart. Effectively providing criticism is not easy or efficient. It can be all the more difficult when dealing with the extra emotional connections of those you know and love.

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