A Criticism-Free Home: Bringing Happiness Back

Love, Family

Increase the positive interactions in your home and reduce criticism for a happier family.

This morning on Good Morning America, I saw a segment about a mother who stopped criticizing her children and focused on positive reinforcement. Some people may think, "Duh!" But step back and think about the way you parent. I believe this idea really is groundbreaking for some, because criticism is so common in all relationships.

After more than 35 years of research, Dr. John Gottman found that criticism also degrades marital relationships. Criticizing loved ones drains the relationship of positive interaction and then of trust. If someone feels constantly judged, how could they feel safe in the relationship? Gottman considers this a gateway behavior in relationships that can lead to even more negativity and eventually contempt.

So why not scrap criticism from your family and relationships entirely? Most people don't understand what criticism is and how to swap it out for more positive behavior-based conversation. Moving away from criticism doesn't mean only saying great things about everyone, it simply means that the focus should be on behavior and not on the individual value of those involved.

Here are five steps to create a criticism-free home.

  1. Don't Personalize. So much of the time, we evaluate others' behavior by how it makes us feel and react from that emotion. If you feel upset, first calm down. I hate to break it to you but most of the time, it's not actually about you.
  2. Speak From Values. When discussing children's behavior, talk about what they did that was inappropriate. Then let them know what behaviors you want to see from them in the future and what value it reflects for your family. For example, "I saw you push your sister when she wouldn't share the toy. That is not OK because in our family we treat each other with respect. Next time, you need to wait your turn and find something else to play with. You can come speak with me if you are upset, so we can work on learning to calm down."
  3. Catch Them Doing "Good." Over the years, I have used an intervention with organizational and family systems in which family or team members were supposed to practice identifying positive behaviors of coworkers or family members. Create a certificate that you can give to your kids when you see them make a good choice. My step-daughter did this for a while and called them the "Mendoza Stars." These can even be accrued to earn small rewards or extra one-on-one time with you!
  4. Thank Each Other Often. One of the things we forget to do in relationships, especially marriage, is to thank each other for their contributions. This often leads to who-does-more fights among couples and children. I use this one when my husband travels for work. Instead of criticizing him for waking me or the baby when he leaves for an early morning trip, I try to thank him for working so hard for our family.
  5. Choose To Be Positive. Creating a culture of appreciation and love in a criticism-free home doesn't just happen. Our brains screen for negative information. We have to choose to create positivity in our relationships by actively choosing to think differently and to speak differently. When you're caught in a negative thought-spiral of complaining or criticizing, stop and think of something good about the person. Then text, tell or email them the good thing. Eventually, your brain will start noticing more good things and you'll feel happier in the relationship.

Developing a "criticism-free" home takes work. Sometimes old thoughts and behavior patterns are so automatic that it's hard to figure out where to start. Try just one of these tips this week. Focus on making that one change. I promise it can lead to more. Negativity, anger and frustration are exhausting. By changing just one thing, it can bring you more happiness, energy and change. You'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

If you find that you need help getting out of the criticism rut, there is help. Intervention with a trained family therapist or family coach will help, quickly. Short-term support can help change happen in just a few sessions. Don't wait until things are worse. Commit to the change and reach out for help, now. Your family and partner will thank you.