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Constructive criticism = crap

Many years ago, at the University I sat in classes for pedagogics and what I learned there was: the best way to teach children is “constructive criticism”.
Basically a “that was great BUT…”-way of teaching.

When I started teaching I found something drastically different and well, I noticed that this idea is completely wrong.

What I found was that children are like traffic lights – for pedestrians. Green or red light.
Think of babies. Green light and RED light. They let you know when they get uncomfortable – whether you desire to know it or not.

What they don’t have is the orange light in the middle that regular traffic lights have. I noticed that the orange light turns up at the start of self-awareness at about age 15+. The in-between, the “orange”, starts to get in later.


When I tried to teach a five year old in the manner of constructive criticism I would totally confuse this poor kid. I would give a green and a red light in one sentence!

Let me translate that for you:
“That was great” means all green and cozy, “BUT…” means red alert, help, I did something wrong, I did not make my teacher happy, I am in danger of not being loved.

See where I am going with this? So I tried something different.

What I found to be much better for beginners and little ones than “constructive criticism” was to give praise. Period.
Praise and make sure they understand how the task is done correctly. For when they understand, they self correct. At least a good portion of the times.


And to be perfectly realistic here: sometimes they don’t want to change.
They understand that they are not doing it right, but they don’t feel the need to change it. No matter how much you make an idiot out of yourself.

I firmly believe there is strength in waiting. Don’t give an orange light when your little student is not there yet, when he is still in the green and red operation mode.
This is challenging for the teacher, but try it out. Your patience will eventually pay off, because you will gain a friend for life.


Learning has a lot to do with feeling relaxed, being in the green light. I would avoid all red light triggers altogether for little ones, I noticed they are unnecessary or even destructive.
You can go to the orange light – later, or much later ;o)


What have been your experiences with “constructive critizism” as a child?
Has it been constructive to you?

Much love,



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