My daughter walks towards the radio, her eyes focused on those shiny buttons. “Eden,” I get her attention. “Don’t touch the radio, please.” She turns around and does not touch the radio. “You’re such a good girl!” I respond. A couple of hours go by. Eden walks towards the radio again. “Eden, please do not touch the radio.” This time she goes for it. I scold her: “You’re being a bad girl.”
Most people do not see anything wrong with how I’ve dealt with the situation. But I do. Let’s pause for a moment and think about what I just taught my daughter: She is a good girl as long as she does what I say; but bad when she doesn’t? I’m essentially telling her that being “good” is dependent upon the correctness of her behavior. She’s a good person only if her behavior meets my expectations.
What does this tell my daughter when she makes mistakes? When she can’t control herself because she’s just 2 years old? When her imperfections as a human being get the best of her? Where good kids are only those who behave correctly, there is no room for mistakes or failures. You screw up and you are one bad kid.
How many of us have had parents who were intolerant of our mistakes and attacked our identity because of it? How many of us were told we were good when be brought home good grades, but bad when we didn’t? Our parents don’t even have to use the words “good” or “bad” anymore because it has become part of our internal monologue. No one likes me. I’m bad at relationships. My parents think I’m irresponsible. I’m not very smart. I’m ugly. I’m not talented.
Our obsession to have kids with good behavior can blind us to what’s really going on with our kids. We place so much emphasis on their behavior that we ignore the underlying factors of their actions. Eden is not bad because she disobeyed me; she disobeyed me because she’s 2 years old and testing authority is a healthy part of her development.
I don’t want to raise good kids — that is, kids that always behave according to my expectations. I want to raise kids that are confident in their God-given self-worth to make the right decisions. I want my kids to know that their being good has nothing to do with how they behave and everything to do with how God sees them. I want kids that are secure in their identity; are proud of who they are even when they fail; and are confident in knowing that no misbehavior will ever make daddy love them any less.
With this in mind, how could I have responded differently to Eden’s disobedience?
To start with, I refrain from using the labels “good girl” or “bad girl.” When my daughter obeys, I can acknowledge it with encouragement: “Thank you for obeying.” When she disobeys I simply send her to timeout. Afterwards, I tell her how disappointment I am but love her anyway.
My daughter will learn a couple of things from this (I hope): One, her actions have consequences; and two, her self-worth has nothing to do with her behavior and everything to do with my unconditional love for her. There is no need to demean her identity by telling her she is a bad person. Hitler is bad. My daughter is not.