As a doting parent, it's often hard to see your children's flaws. It's even harder to point them out to your kids—come on, no matter how terrible the drawing or poor the game's results, it's your duty to be encouraging! Of course it is. But that doesn't mean you can't offer constructive criticism every once in a while.
Why upset them?
If parents always praise their children despite poor performances, things will soon go downhill. Rejection from people and institutions (colleges now have ridiculous 100% cut-off rates!) will leave the kids disillusioned. How come it's only family that sees their many virtues? If they've never been told that something's just not good enough, they're in for a rude shock in the outside world. Gentle honesty keeps kids grounded to a sense of reality and helps keep expectations in check.
Besides, if we're always telling our kids that mediocre is okay, we're failing them on another level. If we don't do it, who will push our kids to do better?
Truth isn't always bitter
Any management or parenting book will tell you that it's not about what you say, it's about how you say it. Let's run with the commonest example of all—poor marks.
• First, poor marks didn't come out of a vacuum. If your child is poor at Maths, it is likely to reflect in the mark sheet. So don't wait till they come back with poor marks to critique them. They're already at their lowest then. Look at their class work every few days instead. And don't stop at pointing out the problem—work on finding simple solutions and tricks. As a child, I thought mum was a genius for coming up with My Very Elegant Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets to teach me the order of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. You, armed with Google, could possibly be the best tuition teacher your child could ever have.
• Make them think it's their idea, working harder and getting better. Teachers can help in this. Next parent's day, ask your child to prepare a chart to explain a concept he/she is struggling with to the class. The focus will shift from being poor at the subject to being the one chosen to teach the class. And you will see how much more attention he pays to understanding the concept at home.
• Never compare your children to their friends or siblings and cousins. Einstein once said: Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid. Not all kids are meant to ace trigonometry, some are destined to decode Shakespeare's plays.
• Start out with praise—for the effort in studying, or by calling attention to another achievement, like a sport's medal your child won.
• Set a mutually agreed and realistic goal, say 80%. How to achieve that goal (an hour's worth of extra studies in the morning, perhaps) and how can you help (you could ensure the alarm won't be snoozed till eternity by volunteering for wake-up duty).
• Focus on the path and goal (B+ in the next exam) rather than a past failure (D in the last exam).
• Finally, assure your child of your unwavering support and love, even if s/he never makes better marks. The point of this exercise is not to make a fish climb a tree, but to make sure that the fish knows that while the fish bowl is okay, there's a whole lake out there to experience, enjoy and survive in!
So take a deep breath and whip out the honesty!