My mother’s love language was praise. That was a wonderful gift as a child but that also meant that negative language in any way was hard for me to hear. I was so primed to hear praise that when I didn’t hear it I was deeply affected.
I distinctly remember right after we got married, I labored over a pan of enchiladas made from scratch. I remember proudly bringing it to the table and we ate it. Finally, in the absence of any comment on it, I asked Craig, “How did you like it?” He said, “Oh, it was a little spicy for me but it was good!” My new bride’s heart was devastated. In my mind I had valiantly labored to do something that was difficult for me and I felt from his absence of praise that he didn’t appreciate the food or my efforts. I took it very hard, and it took me a long time to get over it.
We are now to the point that when Craig reaches out to coach me, I know that there is a person willing to help me see something I am missing. He is feeling compassion towards me. Because I can’t possibly see everything that someone outside my body can, I welcome it. What was so threatening before has become a valuable way in any work I am doing and also helping me with the relationships around me. Since I have made this shift I have been teaching my children how critical and valuable feedback is. The important thing is to first ask permission, “Can I give you a little feedback?” If people don’t want to hear it then they can refuse.
It is merciful to work with our children and teach them that feedback moves in sync with a growth mindset. If they are to learn any skills, they have to make mistakes and be willing to hear corrections without feeling wounded. We don’t help our children improve their pancake making skills if we crunch through pancakes with eggshells in them, praising them for their delicious pancakes.
We can do this in an uncritical way. We can teach them to have an evaluating eye, ear, smell and taste like a food judge would–”What is the best thing about these pancakes?” Let them come up with the answer. Then we can ask, “Would you like my input?” Maybe the flavor is really good or they are really light and fluffy. Then we can ask, “What could be better next time?” Pause and wait for their answer as they ponder what could be better. In this way we are inviting them to learn how to figure things out, instead of directing and telling them the obvious answer all of the time.
As we work with our children, telling them the truth in an uncritical way, whatever they are working on becomes an experiment in a lab, with no personal pain felt for improvements offered. Feedback becomes an easy back and forth instead of a stream of critical directives coming from us, the most important people in their lives, from whom they mirror their self-worth.