Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Your child is working on a project or swiping the floor in the kitchen. You look at the result and give what you think is a helpful suggestion. You point out the missed spot on the floor or a misspelled word on a poster. Your child explodes in anger or crumples in a puddle of tears. "You always criticize me!" she yells. "I was doing my best!" And you wonder, "Is there any way I can give her feedback without this kind of drama?"
The scene above was a frequent guest in our house this year. As any other child, Smarty does not enjoy feeling judged. As a growing tween, she feels criticism to be an assault on her competency. Her motto these days seem to be, It does not have to be perfect or It's good enough. Ironically, these messages come from school where many children struggle with anxiety and perfectionism. Smarty, however, was aptly characterized by her STEM teacher as having a lot of confidence, and not caring about details as long as she gets the job done. Honestly, this attitude drives her detail-oriented father and even myself somewhat bonkers when we see our child being careless in the tasks she undertakes. Interestingly, Smarty was the one who suggested a better way to give her feedback.

I Like, I Wish, I Wonder

We were in the middle of another argument about the quality of her work when she said, You know you always tell me what you don't like about my work. I want you to do what we do in school. I asked her to explain and this is when she shared I like, I wish, I wonder system that her school uses. 
Basically, students are taught to evaluate each other's work starting with the positives. They have to name two things that they like about the project. Then they can offer one critical point using I wish structure. Here is an example from Smarty's teacher on her ukulele performance, I liked the song you selected and how you wrote your own verse for this song. I wish you would start singing in the same key you were playing. If someone wants to suggest an addition to the project, this is where I wonder comes into play. I wonder if you could have your friends sing together chorus lines of your song.
When Smarty mentioned this technique to me, I was both amused and somewhat embarrassed. Amused, because these are typical questions that I use myself at work during Agile software development activity called retrospective. Embarrassed, because it never occurred to me to use the same techniques evaluating my child's work. This technique is actually very powerful as it takes the "sting" out of feedback by first acknowledging something that went well (or at least an intention to do well). 

When Does This Feedback Work?

I don't suggest that you use this sort of feedback while asking your child to take out the garbage. It's more suitable to situations that require retrospective. I explained the approach to my husband as well, and I notice significantly less tension and resistance. I admit that it also helps me to reframe my view of my daughter's work by looking for positives first. When I take time to see the positives, the deficiencies look a lot more manageable. On the other hand, she feels that her work is not just held to a standard she cannot ever meet and is more likely to actually act on our I wish feedback.

Your Turn

Constructive feedback for tweens and teens

Do you have any tips on constructive feedback for older kids?

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Mama Mia said...

I think perfectionism stems from the fact that they are aware of their own flaws. My husband was describing to me his experience of making model planes as a kid and how disappointed that he couldn't put them together like the experts. Kids lack experience so naturally, it's not going to be perfect. Typically, the child is aware of this fact. Whether they accept it or not is up to them. But rather than pointing out what's wrong, it might be more helpful to give them the tools to make it better and let them know that it requires hours of practice to get to mastery level for many people.

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

I love the I wish, I wonder approach because it recognizes that there is a choice involved, while also giving the person receiving the feedback ownership of the situation.

Ticia said...

"not caring about details as long as she gets the job done"

That sentence right there also sums up most of my schooling adventures, and if truth be told similarly now.

I try to do the same thing with my kids, but do not always remember it (not same structure, but similar idea).