Stumbling block #8 – Parental criticism

by | Dec 21, 2009 | Editing & Revising, High school

Stumbling Block #8: Fear of Parent Criticism

When it comes to chores, character training, and schoolwork, you can’t always be the nice guy, the friend. Nope. You’ve got to be the parent, which means it falls to you to judge and evaluate your kids’ work. But if you don’t evaluate with wisdom and purpose, you can unwittingly set them up for today’s Stumbling Block to Writing.

Stumbling Block #8

Problem: Students feel criticized when parents evaluate their writing.

Solution: Use editing and grading tools that encourage objectivity and consistency.

Worry about criticism from Mom or Dad is a huge issue for your child. She doesn’t want disapproval; yet if her paper isn’t perfect, she fears facing judgment. Since kids often see their writing as an extension of themselves, they feel personally affronted when they see marks on their formerly unspoiled pages. Their feelings can be summed up like this:

If you criticize my writing, you criticize me.

Well, clearly, in spite of your child’s hypersensitivities, you still have to evaluate, edit, and grade. So what’s the solution?

Be Objective and Consistent

Nothing makes the editing and grading chore easier and more pleasant than objective tools that equip you for the task. An equipped parent is a confident parent! Your student can sense your confidence. She knows you’ll be consistent, and she won’t worry that you’ll be capricious or unpredictable with your remarks and suggestions. This kind of objectivity and consistency builds a lot of trust.

It’s as simple as using a good editing checklist that pinpoints particular things you can watch for in each paper. Now your student can see that your comments are not based on whim or mood, but on specific lesson expectations she accomplished—or failed to meet.

As you review your student’s writing project, this impartial checklist will allow you to comment on the work in a way that helps her feel less criticized. Ultimately, when editing and grading become consistent and purposeful rather than arbitrary or illogical, you’ll see a big change in her attitude—and yours!

For specific ideas, check out editing tips for the faint of heart.

Give Plenty of Praise

Dish out generous servings of praise and positive comments along with your helpful suggestions. Show your student that you notice her efforts; then make gentle suggestions that encourage improved writing without bruising her sensitive spirit. And when you give a final grade, laud her with sincere praise. Show that you notice things she did well and correctly. Remember: if you use an objective grading rubric, you’ll know what these things are!

Watch for the next article in our 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing series: Stumbling Block #9 – What’s the Point? 

Share a comment: Is parental criticism a stumbling block for your children? What objections do you face when you edit or grade their writing assignments? 

Leaving a comment at any Stumbling Blocks article enters you into a drawing for a $25 WriteShop gift certificate. You can earn up to eleven chances in the drawing by commenting on all eleven articles. There’s still time to comment on any previous post!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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Are you looking for a writing curriculum that provides you with specific editing and grading rubrics? If so, you’ll appreciate WriteShop I for your 6th – 10th graders and WriteShop II for 8th – 11th graders. Lesson-specific checklists build confidence by ensuring that you only hold students responsible for the writing skills they’ve learned. 

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng


  1. Kim

    Wow, Tammy! Thanks for taking the time to share that. You made my day!

  2. Tammy

    I don’t have any words of wisdom or questions. I want to thank you for making the grading part of Writeshop easy. Your checklists and evaluation form are wonderful. Thank you so much.

  3. Kim

    Good suggestions, Diane! Homeschooling does give the advantage of one-on-one time to discuss a composition together. And asking questions is one of the best tools a parent can use to draw fresh ideas from your kiddos. 🙂

  4. Diane Allen

    I look at my job as one of support. I have found it difficult to act in that role without picking out all the faults and flaws, though. The toughest part is not to correct the wording so much when I feel it is awkward. Once I get started making suggestions, the next thing I know I’ve written the sentence and most of the paragraph. A good check list is a must to keep me in line as the parent/editor. I stop myself on style issues by underlining a sentence and asking my student for suggestions about how to improve it.

    I also sometimes ask a friend to grade our papers — it is just easier if she offers the suggestions!

  5. Isabelle aka Canadianladybug

    It’s easy to go directly to the spelling and other errors. We definitely need to uplift the child before pointing the errors. Recently someone told me that when the kids write something at school, the teacher do not look for spelling errors anymore. I have mix feeling about it because I also discovered that colleges in Quebec have to put the young adults through some writing courses to teach them the grammar that they should have learned in primary school. Young adults these days don’t know how to write properly unfortunately… Which makes me want even more to teach my kids how to spell and write. You never know what job they will have in the future and this skill might come in handy.

    • Kim

      Good thoughts, Isabelle. Writing includes three main elements: content, style, and mechanics. The content, of course, is the heart of the composition—the story, main message, or thesis. Style is the way the writer communicates the content through word choice, sentence variation, etc. Mechanics includes all those tricky little rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling that govern how the words actually appear on paper.

      Just as we correctly—or incorrectly—judge a person’s character based on outward appearance, it’s easy to judge a piece of writing by the mechanical errors we see. We don’t mean for them to interfere with our enjoyment of the content, but typically, they do.

      So the whole editing thing is like walking a tightrope, isn’t it? We don’t want to discourage our children from spilling their ideas onto paper, for the freedom of doing so sparks in them a love for writing. But for fear of dousing that fire, some of us sway too far to the left and never utter a word about grammar or spelling.

      And tipping too far to the right are the parents who are so caught up in the glare of dangling participles and grave misspellings that we run amok with our red pens—and completely miss the heart of the child’s writing.

      The trick to finding the balance is remaining as objective as possible and cushioning our suggestions with praise. We really can address content, style, and mechanics without throwing our tenderhearted kiddos to the lions!

  6. Kim

    Jimmie, I love what you’re saying. We don’t want to miss the forest because we’re looking at trees. We mustn’t overlook the heart of the composition, and that’s easy to do when a bunch of mechanical errors are clamoring for our attention. So “praise for the prose” is terribly important.

    However, I also feel strongly that spelling and grammatical errors need to be identified and addressed, as that’s part of the polishing process. We parents just have to be mindful of how we do so! Speak the Truth in Love.

  7. Jimmie

    Absolutely! When I read my daughter’s draft, I try really hard not to mention spelling or punctuation errors (any grammar or mechanics, really). I focus on her ideas, word choices, and organization. And I PRAISE her for those elements that shine. This step is vital! She has just worked hard on pumping out that prose. How can I nit pick on spelling errors (however obvious they may be) and miss the entire point of what she’s trying to SAY? How rude it would be to do so.


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