Everyone’s a Critic… hopefully

A little (or a lot of) red pen never hurt anyone.
Get out your red pens.

In early writing classes, I was defensive during workshops. Slowly but surely, I started hearing the help. Did I achieve Dickens-level brilliance by my sophomore year writing class? I still haven’t, but I’ve learned to love the insightful demolition of my work so that I can progress. To me, my degree embodies my enormous commitment and willingness to receive criticism. And constructive criticism and collaboration are critical because they lead to a previously unattainable quality of work.

Why wouldn’t we want to do things better? Peyton Manning doesn’t sit around patting himself on the back despite achieving the most prolific season ever for an NFL quarterback. He studies what worked, in addition to giving intense scrutiny to what did not, extracting as much as possible from every experience. It’s not about being perfect—Peyton’s completion percentage isn’t 100% and my first drafts have typos up and down the page. But by examining our process with a critical eye, we will progress.

The Practice Life Method (PLM) was born from applying a critical eye: I saw how my instinct to be a decisive taskmaster failed to encourage long-term behavioral development in my charges, so I adapted. Yet many people shy away from internal processing because it’s hard to face mistakes or have the propensity to hear external criticism as an attack. Parents may feel that it isn’t just their parenting techniques under fire but their character and their child’s very nature. As a deflection technique, I’ve seen parents grasp at excuses. In the face of transgressions, some are more likely to explain that their child “is just that way” rather than considering how the parents’ actions enable destructive behavior. I’ve watched a little boy repeatedly interrupt the grown-ups’ conversation until he got a “magic pill” (an M&M) for his promise that he’d “be good.” Why would he change his behavior? Acting out just won him candy! The mother made the excuse that he was hungry and excited because of the birthday party he had attended earlier—all external justifications, no inward reflection.

We need to drop the defensiveness and just commit to getting better. Progress is what we should strive for because that’s what we want for our kids. Improvement. The refinement of awareness. An evolution of skills. When we accept our parenting flaws, we can reflect and determine more effective strategies. That makes us better parents and models self-actualization for children.

Parenting classes and books can help. Even if you don’t completely agree with them, they help you consider complexities in new ways. Nobody has all the answers, but everybody has something to share in the conversation. Learning from teachers or your nanny or other parents is just another opportunity to become a better parent. Hearing impartial opinions is crucial for parenting effectively. It can be difficult to recognize certain aspects of our children’s character because we love them unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean those aspects aren’t there. Children are dynamic, adaptable creatures. I, as a manny, experience different versions of children than their parents do. Understanding these differences reveals the distinction between behaviors that are externally triggered versus fixed character traits.

PLM is the evolution of my scrutinized practices into a cohesive method I believe to be the most effective way to develop a healthy, capable, happy generation of kids (and parents!). But I know that I will continue to learn more and refine the method as research in neuroscience and child psychology continues. I’m always excited to add new tools to my toolbox and am open to tweaking practices for optimal execution. We can always do better. That’s why all criticism is constructive criticism.