What comes to mind when you think about a child having good behavior? How about bad behavior? You may visualize scenes that have played out in your own household. Unfortunately, labeling children good kids or bad kids is very socially acceptable and part of our culture. If we consider how it would feel if we were called good parent or bad parent, good wife or bad wife, good employee or bad employee, good Christian or bad Christian we may get a little perturbed about being labeled by our behaviors and performance. We are humans after all. Children are humans too. In order to make sure we are treating children respectively, I want to propose that we all adopt a “Bad” Behavior Does NOT Mean Bad Kid mentality.
I am convinced you will find this idea simpler and smarter. Instead of making a good or bad blanket statement about a child, you can be specific about what behavior you believe to be bad or good. In the beginning, this takes some intentionality, but it doesn’t take long to become a natural.
A common time for kids to get called good or bad is when parents are talking to each other or to a caregiver. A parent may ask, “Was he good or bad today?” Damage is done when a child is labeled bad especially in earshot. Something I have caught myself saying is, “Why are you being bad? I know you know better.” Hello, I know better than to say that and I just said it. So I guess we’re even! I’ve also told my boys, “Thank you for being so good today.” I should have been specific about the behaviors that were good.
Why It is Best to Leave This Age-Old Labeling System Behind
- Calling someone bad hurts their self-esteem.
- Children will be whatever you say they are. This is a law of attraction. Think of your words like the tide. Whatever goes out will come back positive or negative.
- Our children are humans. They are NOT a behavior.
- Brene Brown’s research shows, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” If our children hear the words, “He is bad.” This causes shame. When kids’ mistakes are met with compassion and encouragement instead of shame, they WANT to do better next time.
- We do not want to be the behavior police. Good guy vs. Bad guy. We want a connected, secure relationship with them.
- When we first greet our kids, the goal is to love and connect NO MATTER WHAT, not to find out about behavior.
- Especially when kids know right from wrong and they are choosing wrong, this means they’re dealing with some big emotions.
What Can I Do Instead? A Healthier & Positive Approach
1. It is fine to label specific behaviors right or wrong. Bad or good. As our children become older, it benefits them to have these categories or “files” if you will, in their brain. If all goes well, it will benefit their decision-making skills.
For example, you can say this:
- Hitting is bad. We don’t hit.
- Grabbing that out of your brother’s hand while he is playing with it is wrong. You can ask him to give you a turn when he is done.
- Burping in my face is bad. It is rude and disrespectful.
- Standing and waiting patiently for your turn to take a picture with Santa is the right thing to do.
- I saw you wiping your face with your napkin. (You usually see them wiping with their sleeve.) It is the right way to clean your face.
- Giving your brother the larger piece and taking the smaller piece even though you love chocolate was a good choice. You showed love.
Can you see how being specific can benefit your child and your relationship with your child? When you are precise about what it is that is good or bad, this leaves less room for perception mistakes. It takes out the guesswork for the child. The child knows which behaviors to keep and which behaviors need work.
2. Now that the focus is on the behavior and not the child, make a mental note that the child needs guidance where this behavior is concerned.
- It is best to connect first.
- Dr. Laura Markham says, “Parenting is 10% what your child does — and 90% how you react to it.”
- Many times challenging behavior is a cry for help or a sign that there is something bigger going on. Getting to the bottom of it and connecting with your child gives you a better chance of getting the behavior you desire. It’s probably not going to do him much good to “teach him a lesson” right now.
- Let the child know that you will be supporting him in improving this behavior. Remember it takes time to form a new habit. At least 30 days!
- Note to self: Our prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until the age of at least age 25, maybe 30. We can have high expectations, but if these expectations aren’t met, we show empathy, empathy, empathy.
Wrap It Up
Are you expected to do this perfectly every day? No, that’s why you don’t expect your kids to act perfectly every day either. BUT when we are intentional about the descriptions we give our children and the implications they can have, we are likely to speak to our child’s heart and mind in a positive way.
In fact, the self-fulfilled prophecy proves true time and time again for the positive and negative. Likewise, whatever you focus on, you will get more of. It’s the law of attraction. Keeping the focus on the child’s positive attributes and avoiding labeling him will make for a healthy and happier parent-child relationship.
I’d love for you to share your experience with kids being labeled as bad or good. Do you agree with the thinking in this article? Ultimately, how did the article reinforce or challenge your thinking?
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