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Horsemen of the Apocalypse: #1 Criticism

August 8, 2011

Criticism - one of the four horsemen

In the mid 1990s, University of Washington researcher John Gottman wrote an interesting book called Why Marriages Succeed and Fail.  He and his research team studied over 2000 young couples and could predict with 94% accuracy which ones would stay married and which ones would get a divorce.  Pretty amazing stuff.  Gottman concluded that there are four horsemen that destroy relationships:  criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.  As fathers, I think these four horsemen also apply to our relationships with our children.   In the next series of blog posts, I am going to break down the four horsemen.  Let’s start today with Criticism.

We criticize our children when we speak in a way that attacks their personality or character.  Criticism has the intent of having someone be right (parent) and someone be wrong (child).  When we criticize, we do not speak of the specific behavior that is bothering us, rather we speak in overgeneralized terms that are quite personal.  Have you ever heard yourself say things like:

*You ALWAYS leave your room a mess. (therefore you are a slob)

*You NEVER listen to me. (you are disrespectful)

*Why are you SO HARD to deal with? (you are overly demanding or selfish)

*I CANNOT trust you. (you are dishonest)

It is easy to slip into criticism, especially when we are tired and/or frustrated.  Here’s a key thought.  If you catch yourself using the words ALWAYS or NEVER, you are most likely slipping into criticism.  Psychologists would say that when we use words like “always” and “never”, we are simply reliving the pain/frustration of a similar incident in the past.  The current incident (a messy room) makes us see red from previous situations and we explode.  I can hear some of you thinking, “That’s great Pat!!  What are we supposed to do  have eternal patience with a room that doesn’t get cleaned for the 50th time?”  Yes, we need to be patient, but that does not mean there is not consequences for actions.  Disciplining through consequences that are agreed on ahead of time is much more effective than emotional shaming our children through criticism.  The good news is that when we remain calm and avoid criticism, we are more effective Dads and we preserve the relationship with our children.

Patrick Donohue is a Life Coach in Oak Park, IL dedicated to helping men become great fathers.

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