A phrase we have all used at some point in our parenting journeys. A socially acceptable way of getting your kid to do what you want, by offering them a reward or bribe. Why do we do this? Often we don't want to get to the point of bribing, but we still do it!
It is fear of judgement! We fear what other people think of us as parents - that we are too 'soft', that we have no authority, that we lack control. And we fear what other people think of our kids - that they are unruly, that they are rude, that they always get what they want.
I'd prefer to call these parents nurturing, responsive and trusting. And I'd call these children free-spirited, assertive and loved!
Do other people's opinions really count that much that we are willing to go against our natural parental instincts?
Let’s flip it round. Imagine you’re the child. You’re in a shop and you’re running around the aisles.
Care giver says “If you’re good, I’ll buy you a toy.” You stop running. You want the toy. But you are not sure what to do next. “What is GOOD? How do I know when I have been good? Who decides what good is? If I haven’t been good then am I bad? I did something I thought was good yesterday but today I got told off for it. I’m confused. Mummy and daddy said if I was good I’d get a toy, but I don’t know what I have to do to be good.”
There are several reasons why this phrase is unhelpful for the child:
What does 'good' even mean?
Firstly, it’s too vague. Being good can mean anything to a child. Your version of “good” may be very different to theirs.
It's a label Good children do this and bad children do that. If we don’t want our children labelled “bad” or “naughty” why is it okay to label them “good”? A "good boy" or "good girl" persona is hard to keep up with! It puts unnecessary pressure on the child to always be "good". And what happens if they are not "good"?
Which is it? IF you’re good suggests that the child isn’t always. Children are not born "bad" or "naughty". And neither are they born "good". Labelling the child "good" puts pressure on the child and can bring on anxiety if they cannot conform to the adult's rules.
It's a bribe Essentially the child is being made to behave in a way that we want them to, instead of allowing them to be themselves. If we want our children to be creative, curious and ultimately content, we should allow them all the opportunities possible to express themselves in exactly the way that they wish to behave.
Encourage independent thinking By telling our children when they are "good" or "bad", they are not given the opportunity to decide for themselves what socially acceptable behaviour is. How will they know if we tell them all the time? We cannot encourage independent thinking without giving our children the space and opportunity to do so.
So what do I say or do instead?! I hear you ask.
Imagine the child running through the aisles at the supermarket.
Tell the child the socially accepted rules
Explain what we should be doing. “We walk sensibly in a shop because there are lots of people around.” Running continues.
Take a "can do" approach
Explain where the child CAN do that sort of behaviour. “Running is for outside. When we go outside, you can run to the lamppost.” Running continues.
Validate the child’s needs and show them that you understand them. “I can see you really want to use your feet and legs. Let’s play a game where we practise using them. Can you tiptoe?” Running continues
Go with it
Follow the child and their need. They'll show you what they need the most. “Okay, we can’t run here because there are lots of people around and it’s dangerous. We can run outside. Let me pay for my things and then we can run outside.”
This may seem inconvenient. You may be thinking, but why should I abandon the shopping just because my child can’t "behave"?
It's important to understand that children have innate needs within them that they are unable to control. A need to run, is a NEED. Resisting that need makes parenting hard! Follow your child's needs, respond to them and you'll be making life much easier and much happier for you and your whole family.
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