“Be good!” is probably the most common phrase used by parents with young children. It is also my #1 pet peeve. The close second being the follow up question, “Were you good today?”
Ugh…just typing it makes me annoyed.
I am not an English major, but let’s just look at this from a grammatical perspective first. To use “To be” in this way describes a characteristic of the person. If someone tells you, “Be good” your response would then be, “I AM” or “I WAS.” See, how it reflects back to the trait of the person. Which seems fine enough
Duh…but think about it. If “I” am not good, then what am I?
And to have young children identify themselves as “I am bad”
IS VERY BAD!!!
It is my belief that all children are inherently good. Negative behaviors are a way to communicate a NEED. Children are not being bad. They NEED help with a problem. Your job is to help solve the need and when you do that, the behavior goes away.
See, when children think that they can not “be good” the opposite “I am bad” becomes something that feels very true. This either causes children to 1) feel terrible about themselves or 2) behave badly more often or BOTH.
Children who know how to “be good” do not get the benefit of real self-esteem because they do not make the connection between their behaviors and their effort. It’s like a game of duck duck goose in a class room (good, good, good, good, BAD!).
The kids that have generally good behaviors get reinforced in a mediocre way for following directions. And the kids who have bad behaviors become first in line for more bad behaviors. If I can’t “be good”, then I might as well “be” as bad as I want.
The second problem with this phrase is that “be good” doesn’t actually tell you what TO DO. It’s so generic and vague that kids become frustrated with the teachers negative reports. Children think, “I was good” but then get a note saying that they didn’t stand still in line or pushed someone on the playground.
From a child’s perspective, 95% of the day was “good” but parents are only getting told about the 5% that was “bad.” In that way, it also sends a mixed message about how we define success.
This happens frequently when teachers send behavior reports with a smiley face (which is what the child sees) and the a negative comment next to it (which is what the parent focuses on).
Never will you make a child behave better by making him feel worse about himself.
Choose your words carefully because they become your child’s inner voice.
Treat your child as if they are already the person that you want them to become. They will often rise to the challenge!
Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at email@example.com
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