Let’s imagine that yesterday you were pulled over by the police, for speeding. How would you feel if, at the time, they had told you that you were a bad woman/man. And when you got home and shared the story with your partner, that they also said you were bad for doing that. And if tomorrow you saw that same police, would you want a reminder not to be bad like yesterday? I know I’d hate it, and would probably feel angry at being reminded over and over!
Yet, isn’t this what we often do to our children when they misbehave….. we somethimes say words like: Naughty boy , or bad girl! And some parents then repeat the story to Daddy when he comes home….. “Sarah was so bad today, she did xyz”. Or tomorrow when the child is playing in a similar situation, we remind them not to be naughty like yesterday.
We wouldn’t like it if it happened to us, so why would we do it to our children?
The reality is that we all make mistakes… and that’s what they are ‘mistakes’, or poor choices. It doesn’t make us bad or naughty!
A better way to handle it, when children misbehave, is to think of it this way…. What they did wasn’t good – it doesn’t make them bad. In very simple terms, explain why their behaviour way inappropriate, and importantly teach them how to do it differently next time. Eg “Sarah, (aged 3) when you draw on the floor, it’s very hard to clean it off. So when you want to draw, ask Mummy for some drawing paper.” This makes it very clear to the child, and all gives them an option for next time. When we just tell them they are bad for drawing on the floor, we haven’t given them any information on what to do to solve the problem. They don’t need a 10 min lecture (think of the policeman doing that to you!) just a brief alternative, which is specific.
Now let’s look at the term ‘good’. If I came to your house and said: “Oh Jenny, you are such a good parent”, whilst you might smile, you don’t actually know what you did to get that praise. Is it because you read to your children, or because you give them healthy food, or because you listen to them? My praise is unclear, ill-defined.
Often we do the same to our children: ‘You’re such a good boy David!” Again, he might smile but really doesn’t know why you said it. Make your praise specific…. Tell them what it was they did, which you thought was ‘good’. Eg: “David, you are so helpful when you put your empty plate on the kitchen bench” – he is in no doubt as to what he did to receive your praise.
The reality is that children aren’t good or bad. They are children, who sometimes behave well, and other times, not. Let’s talk to them specifically about the behaviour, and not put labels on them.
Image by János Csongor Kerekes via Flickr