I don’t want my kids to be nice

or good.  Definitely not.  You see ‘nice’ and ‘good’ are not actually nice and good things to be.  They’re about oppression, and definitely a feminist issue seeing most pressure to be nice is on, and comes from, women.

How can I say this?

‘Nice’ is the woman who is working herself into the ground because she can’t say no to another job.

‘Good’ is the little girl at the back of the class who’s being pinched, but won’t say anything because she’s been told to be quiet and taught not to make a fuss.

‘Nice’ is biting your lip while people say things that are rude or nasty.

‘Good’ is allowing other people to judge my behaviour, not myself.  It is living in a constant guessing game and being scared to do anything in case I get it wrong.

‘Nice’ is not standing up for yourself, and putting everyone else’s needs ahead of your own.

No.  I definitely don’t want my kids, and especially my daughters, to be nice.  And unfortunately they, and I, will almost certainly cop criticism for it.  But I’d rather be criticised than bully my own children.

There are other things far more important (in no particular order).

  1. Polite – especially when you are going to disagree with someone, it’s still important to be polite and give them the same rights you expect.
  2. Kind – being kind is completely different to ‘nice.’  Kind is telling someone (politely) when they’re hurting other people, ‘nice’ is letting them get away with it so you don’t upset them.  Of course it includes all the other types of kindness, being helpful but with limits.
  3. Assertive – very different to aggressive, but it seems to be so rare they get confused.  But we all need to be able to stand up for ourselves.  How can the world change if we allow injustice to continue?
  4. Assertive for others – I wasn’t sure what to label this, but sometimes we need to stand up for others too.
  5. Compassionate – An important one, but hard.  I can be compassionate and sympathetic, which means supporting someone and feeling for their situation.  But it also includes being kind and calling them on it if necessary, not letting them get away with things.  As an extreme example, we all know about the cycle of abuse.  A child who is abused definitely needs our compassion.  But if they grow up and abuse others, are they no longer worthy?  To me, it’s not compassion if it comes with limits.  It doesn’t change, they are still deserving of our support and our understanding, and still need us to call them out on what they are doing wrong.
  6. Questioning – I don’t want them to accept something purely because it comes from authority.  Of course, knowing when to question is the trick!
  7. Curious – This is a source of so much joy, and I want them to have a joyful life.  Discovering, investigating, noticing what is around them.
  8. Reflective – Know thyself!  So much of what we dislike in others is a reflection of ourselves, I want them to be constantly thinking about what they have done, and thought, and said, and how it impacts on others.  Be open to criticism and willing to change, if they think the criticism is right.
  9. Generous – How can we live together as a society if we don’t help each other?
  10. Persistent – Don’t give up, keep trying.  Whether it is to understand something, or finish, or find a new friend, or understand why on earth people do that.  And don’t retreat into your comfort zone.
  11. Independent – Be able to stand on your own.  It doesn’t mean you have to, but if you do you’ll be OK.
  12. Confident – This is about self-worth.  About knowing that your opinion and experiences are as valuable as other peoples’.
  13. Gracious – Pick your battles.  In spite of being confident and independent and assertive and reflective, you don’t have to have the last word.  There are times you will never convince others, even if it is hurting them or someone else.  So have the grace to withdraw and allow them to continue.

Of course, I would absolutely love them to have wisdom, which is how you know if you’re doing all the rest!  But I think that one will take a lot of time and experience to develop.

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17 responses to this post.

  1. I agree with most of what you want for your girls. My number one thing I’d like to hope I’ve taught my girls, and that’s, who they are, right in this moment, is amazing and anyone who makes you feel less than that doesn’t deserve to be a part of their lives.
    Very thought provoking post. Happy T13!


  2. Posted by Elvencreature on February 25, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    On number 6, equally as important is knowing what to ask! That’s something I hope to teach my children.


  3. LOVE this post!!!!
    I think it becomes a child protection issue, also. I never tell my children to “be good”, “do as they’re told” or “play nice”… Because if someone is trying to do something inappropriate to them I don’t want my kids to hear my voice telling them to be good, play nice and do as they’re told!

    Great thoughts 🙂


  4. words are important and you’ve used them well!


  5. Very interesting and thought-provoking post.


  6. I love the notion of assertive for others! Good post.


  7. #6 is kinda difficult when you’re trying to be the disciplinarian instead of an ‘authoritative friend’ tho….we’re here to guide them as they grow and I feel MY word is guidance more importantly. My kids are grown adults now, and they have come to me in the recent past and ‘thanked me for my stern ways”.

    My 13 is literary this week. Scroll down below my Thursday Thunks to find ’em HERE I’d love to have you visit if you can find time!!


  8. I know what you mean, that is why I think it’s important to know when to question. I don’t think they should question me when I’m telling them what to do! And I’m one of the stricter parents I know. More that if I were to tell them they should live a certain way or believe particular things that don’t fit with their own conscience, I would expect them to question. And questioning means discussion – if you flat out disagree with someone then you aren’t questioning because you’ve already made up your mind.


  9. Posted by wildwomanitwildwoods on February 26, 2010 at 12:46 am

    This is great! It sounds like you have the right priorities for your children.


  10. I’ve definitely raised boys and girls to be assertive and questioning from which they (and I) have received a lot of grief for. Apparently, the majority of the world thinks we should all just be “nice and good”. We are the opposite…we rock the boat. I find it odd that people would rather be lied to than deal with criticism. Here’s to a world of people who can speak their minds and not be ridiculed for having a different opinion!

    (Great TT!)


  11. interesting, since I tell my boys all the time to be “nice” to one another. I’m certainly going to think about this more!


    • It’s hard. I find that even though I don’t want to, things like ‘talk nicely’ and ‘good girl’ slip out, because I’m so used to them. I have to really plan out what I’m going to say.


  12. so true… so very true… but so often overlooked….


  13. I hope every parent is putting as much thought into how they want their children to behave in the world as you have. 🙂


  14. Posted by nalin on February 27, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Deb, great article, and I agree with everything that you said – except something that you said in your last comment. Are you serious when you say you don’t want your children to disagree with you when you tell them what to do? Not sure if you are being lighthearted or not. If you are serious, I’m curious as to why you want to instill in them a desire to question the world around them, but not to question you? Do you think you are 100% right all of the time? I would want my child to have the courage and intelligence and sense of self to call me up if what I am asking of them is, without me having realised it, unfair or inappropriate. I think as parents we need to be able to model that you can be wrong sometimes, and that you can change your mind and admit that you were wrong and that that is ok. And I think it is important for children to feel that they are a part of a cooperative family, and not at the mercy of what would essentially be a mini-dictator. So, on that point, I disagree with you, if indeed that is what you meant.

    But on the whole a great article!


    • It’s hard to define, because as I said it’s about knowing when to question. When I say I don’t want them to question when I tell them what to do, I mean things like you need to pack that up now or get dressed so we can go out – instructions. They absolutely have a say, my 4 year old is a master negotiator, but I’m trying to teach her she needs to have an alternative suggestion or reason (and she can be pretty creative!). Plus, pretty much anything I tell them to do is a non-negotiable – it’s about safety or something they can’t understand, or one of those things that just have to be done – and the reason for doing it is explained upfront. So if they’re going to question after getting the reason, they also need to have a reason or better option. ‘Questioning’ as I’m talking about here is intelligent questioning – not just saying ‘why?’ but having a basis for disagreement or doubt.

      If there is a choice, it’s offered as a choice or we discuss it before hand. Even cleaning up, although I gave that as an example, the cleaning up bit has to be done. But the how and what might be up for questioning – they generally have a choice of which bits they do.

      In fact, as I think about it, questioning instructions is usually ok – I’m happy to explain why we’re doing something if I haven’t already, and if they offer an alternative that fits the bill and is good for everyone I’ll often change. But there is a very good reason for people to learn when to question, which is what we’re talking about here. It’s annoying. And although that might sound petty, any parent knows just how quickly children can push buttons and that’s not good for anyone – you don’t do good parenting then! So they need to learn to pick their battles so their questions will be well-received. So when I say they should do what I tell them, I mean they should save their questioning for something bigger than “why do we need to go to the shops?” When the answer is “So we’ll have food for dinner!”

      The more I think about it, I realise I don’t give many instructions that don’t come with an explanation. And there’s very little they don’t get a say in. They don’t necessarily get their way, but they have a voice.


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