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Constructive Criticism Part Two - A Positve View of Your Criticism
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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4/28/10

To begin with, you, as the parent, need to have a positive view of your guidance, since your viewpoint is subconsciously communicated to your children. Think of tochachah as a gift that you are giving your child. But bear in mind that it will be in all likelihood an unwanted gift—at least temporarily—because few people take pleasure in listening to criticism. Your goal, therefore, is to deliver this gift in such a way that it is accepted, even if it is not appreciated at that time.

Many years ago, I heard Rabbi Shlome Wolbe z’tl describe children as little adults—as he put it, “kinderlach zenen kleineh menschen.” Although they are small, children still have feelings just as we adults do. And just as we would be, they are hurt if we present our criticism in a non-constructive manner. Therefore, make sure that your gift of tochachah—even if less than pleasant—is delivered in a positive manner.

TIMING, TIMING, TIMING

One summer I was teaching a group of fifteen-year-old students at camp. When I went through the roster on the first day of class and I called out the boys’ first and last names, one student corrected me with a harsh tone of voice, “My name is not Shloime; it is Scott.”

I was taken aback by his words. I wanted to say to him, “Not that there is anything wrong with the name Scott, but what do you find offensive about Shloime? What’s wrong with Shlomo? You have a beautiful Hebrew name. Why not use it?” I was also quite upset by the tone of his voice. But I stopped myself and thought, “This is the first day of class. I have eight weeks to learn with this child. I would like to teach him Torah, middos, and how to be a proper Jew. He doesn’t know me yet, so whatever message I give him today will probably be lost. So, this is not the time for tochachah.” In all honesty, this child was not my talmid at that time; he was just a child sitting in my classroom. I felt that I would do a better job getting my message across after I had developed a relationship with him.

I did get the message across later in the summer, but on the first day, it clearly was not the time.

Sometimes, delayed criticism comes across much better. But it takes a lot of self-discipline not to give into a knee-jerk reaction. When we see something wrong, we feel the urge to respond immediately. And without a doubt, it is good to correct wrongful behavior on the spot—if we can do so in the right way. But there are times when our closeness to the situation is such that we’re not in the best position to deal with the problem right away. In such a situation, it might be wise to say nothing, or to say, “I am upset with what you did, and for this very reason I don’t want to discuss it right now. We need to sit down and talk about it, and we’ll do it when we both had the time to think calmly about what happened.”

A PERSONAL EXAMPLE

I personally learned this lesson from a renowned Talmid Chacham of the previous generation. I witnessed him do something that made an unforgettable impression on my life when I myself was a teenager.

A child in a sleep-away camp was sent home for a serious infraction. The Rov called the boy’s father and told him that he was putting his son on the bus, so he should arrange to pick him up. With the father listening over the phone, the Rov then delivered a very strong rebuke to the boy. Then he gave him a blessing and told him to leave. But, as soon as the camper was out of his office, the Rov called the father back and told him, “Your son is devastated. I gave him all the bitter medicine he needs. You don’t need to give him any more tochachah. What you need to do now is to embrace this child and help him to get on the right road again.”



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