Every parent thinks their child is the best child - and that's okay! Maybe they don't think that all the time, but every parent thinks it at some point during their child's life. Most kids are pretty good! You know human nature: no one is perfect, most kids really like to be cooperative and get along with other people. The affirmation of their positive behavior plays a huge part in shaping their attitude, too. When someone says that a certain kid is "bad", I cringe. I don't think children can be bad. Sometimes, I think nearly all misbehavior in children is a cry for attention in most cases and the mama bear in me wants to find out what that child needs. But we live in the real world, and in reality people are going to label children as "the bad kid" or the "wrong kid to hang around with". It's time to change the narrative: kids are not bad. Kids may behave badly, but they are not inherently bad humans.
"OK but what's the difference," you might be asking. "Bad or not, they're still going to get punished if it's something they shouldn't have done. I completely agree with you! I don't think that it's OK for our children to walk around behaving however they choose to without any regard for other people. Yes, it is possible for a child to behave badly in a given situation. When I'm trying to remind my son that he has a responsibility to be a good big brother to his sister, I describe behaviors that are nice and behaviors that are naughty.
I don't mean to come at this from a place of privilege. Although I have two relatively well-behaved children, I know many mothers personally who struggle with their child's behavior. I see them going 'round and 'round, racking their brain trying to figure out how to convince them to mind their manners. Behaving well is going to get them more and better attention and better outcomes in life than behaving badly. My own kid can be downright disrespectful with his naughty behavior! Sometimes it takes everything in me not to tell him that he has been a bad boy. I remind myself that using harsh words can be just as harmful as beating or abusing a child.
At a certain point, children believe what we tell them because we are the adults and we are in charge. If a child grows up being told they are bad; not that their behaviors were less than ideal, but that they themselves are bad. Only heartache can come from that! The label "bad kid" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you accuse a child of being bad, they will sometimes lash out with behavior that would seemingly justify that label. And honestly? What successful person can you think of who said, "My parents telling me that I was bad is the reason why I am successful today." No, on the contrary: the most successful and well-adjusted people in this world are those who have been given positive affirmation about who they are, their words, and their ability to be loved.
No one loves bad kids. Those poor children who get stuck with that label - they know when we call them bad kid, we are just deciding to dismiss them. We don't want to deal with whatever problems they're trying to bring to the table. In the best case, we are oversimplifying the incredibly complex nature of human behavior. Worst case? We could be molding someone who thinks that no one values their life and that the only way to give meaning to it is to make others feel bad, too.
I'm not a perfect parent, so even though I want to eliminate this kind of language from my vocabularym I know I'm going to slip up. It's going to take a while - weeks, months, hopefully not years. The goal is to surround my children with love, with language that reminds them their life means something. I want my kids to know the lives of others mean something, that we can't dismiss one another as simply ‘bad’. And perhaps most importantly, to consider the weight of our words - especially around children. It's shocking how much their little minds can absorb as they learn and grow so let's be mindful of what it is they're learning from us. The difference between a bad kid & a naughty kid? The grown-up in their life. The words they hear describing them. No kid is bad.