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Coping with Criticism

Strategies for Responding Gracefully to Remarks from Family, Friends, and Strangers*

We all struggle struggle at times to receive criticism, especially when it’s about something as near and dear to us as our parenting. Here are some tips for responding to parenting or breastfeeding criticism. 

  1. Listen First
      • Wait to respond until you clearly understand what the other person is saying.
      • Always assume good intentions – most people genuinely mean well. 
  1. Look for the Question behind the Question
      • Identifying the motivation behind a particular question can help you decide how to handle it. 
      • Is he still waking up at night to nurse?” could be a question out of concern for your own welfare. “Oh, we’re getting plenty of sleep” or “Yes, and I absolutely cherish those peaceful feedings when it’s just the two of us” may resolve the concern while avoiding the discussion of baby’s need to nurse at night.
  1. Broken Record
      • Calmly and persistently repeat your message.
      • “She’s hungry, and needs to nurse. The law allows me to nurse wherever I am.”
  1. Fogging
      • Agree with the true part of the statement, and “fog” the real issue.
      • In response to “People can see you nursing that baby,” say “Yes, he is eating right now.  He’ll be finished with his lunch in just a few minutes.”
  1. Negative Assertion
      • Smilingly accept the statement without guilt, and restate it in positive terms.
      • Yes, she is nursing a lot today.”
  1. Negative Inquiry
      • Smilingly ask for details about what the person doesn’t like.
      • “Could you explain exactly why his nursing bothers you?”
  1. Explain your Reasons
      • Call on experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and the Surgeon General in order to explain your choices.   
      • “Yes, our pediatrician says that nursing for at least a year is best for me and baby.”
        “Yes, the World Health Organization encourages breastfeeding for at least 2 years.”
  1.   Workable Compromise
      • Find a way to retain the aspect most important to each party.  
      • “We’ll continue to come visit you, and I’ll nurse as discreetly as possible,” since Grandma certainly wants to continue seeing her grandbaby! 
  1.   Humor
      • When asked, “How long is she going to nurse?” mention “Well, I’m hoping I won’t need to go to college with her, but we’re going to wait and see.”  
  1. Leave
      • Physically leave the room or the premises, or change the subject, or talk to someone else.  

*Adapted from LLL of Greater St. Louis handout

Remember

The most important parts of responding to criticism often lie in your tone of voice, your facial expression, and your body language. You may need to practice saying your responses in a mirror to ensure that you appear confident and non-threatening. Also, be sure that you take a deep, relaxing breath filling your lungs and brain with oxygen before you respond.

Healthy communication starts with “I” messages, instead of “you” messages. “I” messages convey what you are feeling and thinking in healthy ways. “You” messages are often received as attacking and threatening. A simple formula that is easy to remember with “I” messages is the following:  “When __________, I feel ___________. I’d prefer if ____________________”. For example, “When I’m asked why baby is nursing so much, I feel like my parenting is being questioned. I’d prefer if you trust me to know the needs of my baby.”