Ah, half-yearly reports. Some students are thrilled to see their achievements praised by their teachers. For others, it’s a time of dread where they feel like they don’t measure up to expectations. For both groups, learning to receive constructive criticism is a crucial life skill.

We encounter feedback situations throughout life; in performance reviews at work, teacher’s comments on an assignment, suggestions given by our doctors, and the reactions of people we talk to based on how we’ve acted. The ability to consider feedback increases our ability to learn and work independently, promotes self-awareness and self-improvement, and helps us to more effectively communicate with others.

Unfortunately, not all feedback is helpful and not all helpful feedback is delivered kindly. So how do we give constructive criticism?

The purpose of giving feedback is to improve performance. As teachers, parents, and carers, we give our children feedback to guide and shape their behaviour so that they will become respectful and cooperative members of our families and communities.

Giving feedback is a relational exercise that has the potential to grow and strengthen the receiver and the relationship between the giver and the receiver. To avoid damaging the precious relationship between us and our children, it’s important that our feedback is intentional and well prepared. Here are some helpful principles to think about as you approach giving feedback, and don’t worry; once you’ve done it a few times, the art of providing effective, kind feedback will become second nature.

1. Preparation is key

Preparing what you say helps you to stay on track and stick to the issue at hand. It isn’t helpful when one suggestion becomes a list of improvements that leaves a child feeling like they can never do anything right. Likewise, praise for a great exam mark should remain positive, instead of being used solely to raise the benchmark, leaving the child feeling like the initial achievement wasn’t good enough. The solution is to limit your focus to avoid message overload. Use specific statements such as ‘I like it when you…’ and ‘I was so proud to hear that…’ and save off-topic comments for another time.

2. Be sensitive

Think about your motive for giving feedback. The purpose of feedback is to inspire growth, whether that is growth through a change in behaviour or aiming to beat a personal best. Negative feedback is better done in private, so that your child feels psychologically safe and more open to hearing what you have to say. When negative feedback is given in public, a child can feel belittled and  discouraged. Similarly, depending on the student, positive feedback given in front of others is mortifying. In that scenario, opt for a quiet word in private to let them know you recognise their achievement and you’re proud of them.

3. Timely and regular

Effective feedback is timely feedback. Part of the problem with biannual reports is that there is so much pressure to summarise two terms of school work into a few sentences, meaning a lot can be missed. Instead of giving all your observations at report time, make feedback a regular part of parent-child discussions. You could ask your child what they learned from each assignment or exam after they complete it, and discuss their teacher’s feedback when their results are released. Perhaps before parent-teacher interviews, you could have your own parent-child interview to tell your child what you’ve noticed over the term and ask them for their reflections.

4. Use ‘I’ statements

Just like arguing, ‘I’ statements help us to avoid accusations and generalisations. We want our students to be open-minded listeners when receiving feedback and willing to consider what we have to say. ‘I’ statements show that the feedback you’re giving has been observed from your personal experience, and sets up your specific expectations so your child understands where you’re coming from.

5. Ask questions

Giving your child a chance to reflect and respond is crucial to helping them become a self-reflective learner. Asking questions guides their reflective process and encourages them to respond using reason and evidence. Asking them for their insights, and listening actively, also gives them the chance to explain their actions and maybe even correct some assumptions beneath the feedback they’ve received. You might even ask “How can I support you?” which opens space for them to ask for help.

6. What’s next?

Most of us are naturally resistant to critique because it makes us feel vulnerable. However, listening to criticism is a challenge that brings with it a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow. As we notice our own growth, or our growth is affirmed by others, our self-esteem, emotional maturity, courage and resilience improve. An effective way to foster a growth mindset in your child is to conclude the conversation by setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals or a SMART next step by which they can measure their own growth. It’s a good idea to encourage them to write down, draw, or record their resolutions in some way so that the next time you sit down together, they can reflect on what they’ve learned and how they’ve changed.

Overall, constructive criticism is collaborative, allowing the receiver to respond to feedback and participate in determining their next steps. When done well, feedback strengthens relationships between parents/teachers/tutors and their students and empowers the student’s future learning and development.

At Nepean Tutoring, our tutors are exceptional communicators who work with their students to deliver critique in an effective, sensitive, and age-appropriate manner. We know that knowledge and growth come when students know they’re engaged in their own leaning process. We encourage our students to set their own learning goals and tailor our lessons to support them to achieve their goals. Our tutors recognise each student’s achievements and encourage them to become self-reflective learners for life who are equipped to face the challenges of the future workforce.

If you’re looking for a tutor to join your child’s educational support team, look no further than our experienced local tutors. Contact us today for a free consultation.

(Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash)