Naughty or Nice?

More and more lately I’m hearing about naughty babies or naughty toddlers. The phrases “is she being naughty today?” or “she was up all night, she’s so naughty” really get my goat. I don’t know why. You can call your child whatever you want I guess. I just don’t understand the point in negatively labelling a child for age appropriate behaviour and then making some kind of “naughty child” contest out of it amongst your friends.

 Naughty adj: Behaving disobediently or mischievously: a naughty child.

 The second part of that definition is easy for me to disregard. Mischievous is fun! A child is supposed to be mischievous – that’s not naughty, that’s pure 3 year old! Disobedient is a whole different kettle of fish though. To me that is straight from the school of parenting that believes children should be seen and not heard. I was going to say that it was from my parent’s era but actually I know plenty of 2009 parents who are enrolled in the same school. If you’re heard too often then you’re being disobedient and by the above definition you’re also being naughty. So I guess that’s why the screaming 12 week old is being naughty at 3am because her parents have asked her to be quiet, she’s not complying so therefore she’s being disobedient. Naughty little thing.

 In the same category is the manipulative child. This is the child who cries but then mysteriously stops crying when you pick her up or breastfeed her. Well of course she has stopped crying – you have met her needs! Crying is communication and although I know too well that it can sometimes seem incessant and never-ending, in my experience it always has a purpose and what’s so bad about that purpose being a cuddle? If you pick up a crying baby and they stop crying then look out! They obviously have you wrapped around their little finger and you’ll have hell to pay in weeks/months/years to come. Best to leave them to cry so they learn whose boss and you can avoid another rod for your back.

 What ever happened to kids being kids? I don’t need to know the second my son opens my Tupperware cupboard – I know where he is even if I’m not standing right next to him and I know he’s in my Tupperware cupboard. He’s allowed to be there and he’s allowed to pull the plastic out – that’s why it’s in that cupboard, in his reach! If I’m not panicking then doesn’t it stand to reason that my visitors don’t need to panic either? Perhaps they think they’re being helpful but the dramatic “Oh no he’s messing up your house…….again!” and then “he’s such a naughty boy” really does drive me slightly mad. Actually it annoys the heck out of me. If you think it’s problematic then feel free to tell him “No Samuel, shut cupboard” but quit it with the labeling and the shrieking at me that implies I’m not on top of my game. Call me overly sensitive but if you hear it a million times a day it really does seem that that is what is being implied.

 If my daughter is tired and has a meltdown she’s not being naughty she just needs some help dealing with her emotions. I don’t believe we’re born knowing that we can take some deep breaths or use our words to help explain how we feel, I believe this is a learned skill and I believe that 3 is perhaps a bit young to have a handle on this all of the time. And what’s with having to kiss and hug every relative every time you see them for fear of otherwise being labeled naughty? I have one family member who if they don’t get a kiss every time they see my kids will claim “What is he/she in a bad mood about today? Or are they just being naughty?”

 The flip-side of the naughty child is the good child. The child who sleeps well, eats everything on their plate, never screams and shrieks, kisses and hugs upon greeting, and is never overly tired or emotional. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing if your child meets the good criteria it’s just a bit much for everyone to expect everything from every child.

 I have a daughter and a son. Their names are Isabelle and Samuel. They are not called “naughty girl” or “good boy” they are a beautiful mix of everything that makes a child perfectly wonderfully all rolled into one.

3 responses to this post.

  1. It’s such an adult-centred way of looking at life, isn’t it? The thing that gets me about ‘naughty’ is that it’s almost impossible for a kid to work out if something is ‘naughty’ unless they do it – it’s completely defined by others. So it doesn’t give them any rules to help judge their actions. Is jumping on the couch naughty? In some houses yes, others no. Jumping isn’t naughty if they do it outside. Being on the couch isn’t naughty. So how are they supposed to work it out? A defined rule like “Don’t break things,” means they can try to work it out for themselves. “Don’t be naughty,” or “Be good,” is meaningless.

    And how is a baby supposed to manipulate people? It actually requires a very high level of thinking to manipulate – you need to be able to notice a pattern, predict consequences and put yourself in another person’s place. Now I’m a typical biased mother and think my kids are smart, but I doubt my 3 year old could do that, let alone a baby. Just another example of how adults seem to want kids to fit in with them, rather than the other way around.

    I think your post fits in well with The Savannah ( even though it wasn’t planned!) because it is another consequence of trying to raise children in a society that doesn’t really seem to know what to do with them. As you say, they should be sitting back and watching before they suddenly aquire a voice at adulthood.


  2. Posted by plahski on May 17, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    A really good read about this issue of labeling children is; Picturing Childhood: The Myth of the Child in Popular Imagery – It’s written by a woman named Patricia Holland…

    It is about societies apparent need to label children within three main areas – the child as the naughty animal or devil, the slightly sexual but innocent or angelic child and the child represented as just being a small adult. It goes into the fact that in advertising, and in popular media children are always being made to fit into these three areas.

    So people who make comments like this are usually just blindly following a societal norm that we are actually drilled with from birth. Have you ever analyzed the a ‘it’s a boy!’ or ‘it’s a girl!’ greeting cards at the newsagent? I have… (that sounds strange now that I have said it!) usually the girls is something like “innocent eyes of a beautiful girl” and the boys are more like “laughing and playing all day long” – hers are about being passive and his are about being active – next time you are there have a look. So straight away we put labels on them simply because of their sex!

    It isn’t just due to gender though – as you know because you get similar comments about both children. It is about people misunderstanding children altogether and in the end the point is that children are as individual as every other human and can’t be boxed in.

    Negativity does have a huge effect on children. My personal belief is this: To feel safe children need assistance and guidance and learning experiences that may need to be structured with rules – but always in a positive and reflective way. So if something isn’t working you look back on it and you find out why so that you can remain positive and open to what is acceptable and what is not. Another big one is – don’t sweat the small stuff! If you go off about mediocre things the same as you do serious things kids will never understand the seriousness of some big rules we all have to have to keep them from danger.


  3. Posted by Annette on October 1, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Tiff I always enjoying reading your take on parenting it makes me question my parenting and if I can do better or different I try and change. If I am happy with the outcome I still try and do even better.


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