A few months ago, we were walking with a friend and we saw some older kids in the neighborhood getting into some mischief. My friend said to my daughter, “Those boys are being naughty!” My daughter looked at me and whispered, “What does ‘naughty’ mean?
My four year old didn’t know the word naughty because I’ve never used it in front of her. Children are not naughty. Children are not born full of sin. All children, (especially babies, toddlers and preschoolers), are not capable of purposely being manipulative, conniving, deceitful or ‘naughty’.
When a child acts out or exhibits undesirable behaviour, it’s because he or she has an unmet need. An unmet need such as the inability to communicate, lack of knowledge in a situation, feeling powerless in a situation or feeling fear, anger or sadness: all of these can cause a child to act naughty.
Are my kids annoying sometimes? OF COURSE THEY ARE! Believe me, we have our moments. But are they naughty? No. No way.
But, I’ll tell you what. More often than not, my kids behave pretty well and cooperate most time. I don’t use time out/time in. I don’t smack. I don’t shame, bribe, punish or reward.
There are ways out there to get kids to ‘behave‘ while at the same time treating them with respect. This is what we do to keep them from acting ‘naughty‘:
- I allow my children to cry and to rage freely (as long as they don’t hurt themselves, others or things and we’re in a semi-appropriate place for it). I don’t distract them from their feelings. If they’re about to cry, I don’t tell them to look at the dog instead. I don’t tell them to go away and come back when they’re calm. I don’t even tell them to ‘use their words’. I let them cry and protest in my presense. When they’re finished with their tantrum, and I’ve let them really express their emotions, they are always so much happier and we can talk later. If they’re allowed to express their feelings with as little interruption as possible, they don’t feel the need to act out later on down the track.
- I use games and play to get my kids to cooperate and overcome fears. I make sure they have had enough connection time and use lots of loving touch, in the form of hugs, cuddles, babywearing, etc. I’ve done a recent post on the cooperation thing here.
- I let my kids have as much autonomy in their life as they can by giving them options to choose from. For example, let them choose what they want to wear, what play activities they want to do or where they want to go on family outings, etc. When kids feel that they have power in a situation, they are less likely to act ‘naughty‘.
- I make sure my kids get plenty of exercise. Often times when a child is acting ‘naughty‘, it’s simply because they have too much pent up energy! I also check to make sure that they’re eating well and getting enough sleep.
I know that my kids are little and they’re still learning about the world around them. But, whenever any child, of any age, starts acting out, it’s because there is some part of them inside that is crying for help. I can’t ever call a child naughty because I know that they have no concept of purposely doing something wrong.
A child’s actions will mirror exactly how they are feeling inside. If I see a child acting ‘naughty‘, I know that there is something going on inside. Some need for connection or understanding has to happen. I’m a high school teacher and I see the same thing happen when teenagers misbehave. They too, are looking for connection and understanding.
My daughter knows now what the word ‘naughty‘ means, because I’ve told her and since that day, she’s recognized that other people say it. But to me, she will never be naughty. I am her safe space. Around me, she can express her emotions freely and I won’t ever call her ‘naughty‘ or tell her she’s being a ‘bad girl‘. When she does act out, I take a good look at the situation and do my best to respond to the situation so that she feels safe and that she is in a place of trust. Because she feels safe in my presence, she doesn’t lie to me. She knows that her feelings of anger or frustration are safe with me. She knows that she won’t get into trouble, so there is no need to hide anything from me. Together, we find a solution that we’re all happy with and we move on.