Correcting Others in a Supportive Way

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Perfection Paralyzes. Some things need to be done really well, but most things just need to be done. When we focus on passing inspection or judgment of others, it is often easier for the inspected or judged one to just quit trying. Criticism of ourselves or others makes it almost impossible to move forward effectively. It is as if we see a great big STOP sign in the middle of the highway. We stand in front of the sign and wring our hands, worry and beat ourselves up for not choosing the "right" road.

Many times our children are so afraid of disappointing us or being corrected that they do everything in their power to avoid even beginning a project.

Do you tend to procrastinate? Why? Is it because you are afraid it won't measure up to expectations, either real or imagined? Is it because you are afraid of what other people will say if it doesn't work or isn't perfect? Is it because you don't want to do it the way your boss, parent, spouse or inner critic wants it done?

Excellence is achievable. Perfection is not.
Correct the Task or Deed, Not the Doer

Does your child know your love is unconditional and not dependent on a perfect score or a bed made without wrinkles? Children do not know love is unconditional unless you tell them. Because children do not begin to think in the abstract until the mid-teens, they tend to see and believe only what is before them or within their realm of experience. If you are unhappy about how the bed is made and look angry and frustrated, your child interprets that anger or disgust as against him or her as a person.

Do you see the difference between?
"The bedspread needs to be tucked in around the pillows"


"What a slob! How many times do I have to tell you before you get it through your head? You never listen."

Who owns the problem?
The goal of discipline and teaching is to be both firm and kind. Destroying the spirit of the child with verbal barbs will not get the bedspread tucked in and the child will not want to try again for fear of failing. A different approach would be to state the problem of the un-tucked spread and maybe even add, "I have confidence in you. I know that you can do the job."

If the child still refuses to deal with the mistake, should you jump in and do the job yourself? No. It is not your problem. It only becomes your problem if it stops you from doing what you need to do in life.

Let your child come up with solutions and answers. Offer guidance with a mental picture and emotional boost, by saying, "Remember how proud you felt yesterday when you had all the lines straight on the edges? It looked to me like rows of vegetables in a garden they were so straight."

Ask yourself: What am I doing to help my child gain a sense of accomplishment and success? Do I wait until a job is completed to my specifications, before I pass on it? Do I take for granted the things they do daily and then get angry at the things left undone? Am I more concerned with the end product than the process of learning? Am I concentrating on the task at hand so closely, I forget to teach the needed life skills?

Help people reach their full potential.
Catch them doing something right.

Triangle of Conflict Resolution
Assume personal responsibility

Have I done all I can do to resolve this conflict? ________________

Have I looked for solutions? ____________________

Am I willing to compromise? ____________________
To forgive? To forget?         _____________________ 

If the conflict can't be resolved, am I willing to live with it? _________________________

Respect for myself                          Respect for the other person
I have the right to my feelings    He/she has the right to his/her feelings

How I feel:                                          How they feel:


Seek first to understand, then be understood.
Think win-win!

Positive Correction that Changes Behavior

With an Encouragement Sandwich

A very effective way of communicating correct behavior is to create a verbal Encouragement Sandwich:

1. Start off with a slice of the bread of life. For example, "I really admire the way you are learning to take better care of your things."

2. Next, add a little mayo spread lightly. "I felt happy when I saw you hang up your new jacket last night."

3. Then, add the slice of sharp cheese. (The behavior that is unacceptable). "However, I noticed you left your bike outside in the rain again."

4. On top of the cheese, layer a little spicy mustard to catch their attention. (The consequence of continued misbehavior. Ask for what you want to happen). "Please put it away every night or we will have to lock it up for a week each time it is left out."

5. Finally, top it off with another slice of bread. (Confidence builder). "All in all, you are a responsible kid and I have confidence you will choose to take better care of your bike."

Do they get the message of the mistake of leaving their bike out? Yes, and instead of attacking them personally, this method of correction gives them an incentive to do better.

Build Your Own Encouragement Sandwich
Now, apply what you just learned to create a sandwich for a situation that you have experienced.

6. Slice of bread

7. Mayo, spread lightly

8. Slice of sharp cheese



11. Spicy mustard



14. Another slice of bread

Life is Not a Win-Lose Choice
In working with others, if you limit your options to win or lose, right or wrong, the only sure result will be a stomachache. Much of our self-image is based on the traps of comparison, competition, and criticism.

We can get caught in the win-lose trap when we base any part of our self-worth on making sure that we win and someone else loses. Aim for win-win solutions.

Ask For What You Want
The human mind is wired to track what works and to discard all else. Think of a baby. You can almost see his little mind working out what worked well and what needs to be adjusted for success.

If crying brings help, a cry is used. If a smile brings smiling responses, more smiles develop. A baby lets those around him know by verbal and non-verbal clues what he wants.

A loving parent or caregiver quickly learns to read the clues the baby sends out. They become in tune vibrationally and the mother usually anticipates what the baby needs when he begins crying.

Be very clear what you want. Ask specifically when you ask for help, much like when you were a baby. Do not anticipate or assume coworkers and family members can read your non-verbal clues.

Have Patience with the Process
Envision a baby learning to walk. Parents and caregivers don't yell at him when he falls down, nor do the falls stop his progress. Family members applaud his efforts and know that eventually he will master the task in his own way and in his own time.

A baby is hungry for success. It is his birthright and his brain, body and spirit tell him to keep trying. It is the subtle encouragement hardwired into a child that keeps him getting up each time he falls down. Soon, walking is second nature and becomes automatic action and taken for granted by the family.

In working with others be firm, kind and consistent as they learn. Remember to encourage and compliment the small steps taken towards an ultimate agreed upon goal.

    Next: Nurturing Children with Love and Respect

Previous:  Encouragement is a Gift of Courage

Judy H. Wright is a parent educator, family coach, and personal historian who has written more than 20 books, hundreds of articles and speaks internationally on family issues, including end of life. You are invited to visit our blog at for answers and suggestions which will enhance your relationships. You will also find a full listing of free tele-classes and radio shows held each Thursday just for you at

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