It’s Arnav’s 10th birthday today. His caregivers tell him, “It’s your birthday today! Smile and look happy.” “Be good, there is a huge party for you!”
Did Arnav’s caregivers say anything wrong?
Let’s explore what Arnav is thinking:
“I thought I was good already?”
“ Am I not happy?”
“Was I not smiling already?”
“Does only smiling make me happy?”
Arnav feels confused by these sentences. He starts questioning himself and his behavior. He also feels forced to smile and look “good”. What does being “good” even mean?
It took only two sentences, to send Arnav into a whirlwind of self-doubt.
So, what exactly am I trying to say?
Sometimes, we tell a child to be good continuously. We tell them to behave nicely, smile all time, and get good grades. This might seem harmless to us. But, in reality, it puts pressure on the child to behave in a certain manner and increases self-doubt in them.
Arnav’s caregivers might have also thought that they are just telling their child to be good. But, in reality, the pressure of being “good” can make a child feel pressured and behave in a non-authentic way.
So, how can we avoid pressuring our children to be “good”?
Acknowledge and resist- Every time we find ourselves saying “Be good” “Be nice” become aware of it and resist saying it instantly. With consistent practice and awareness, we can find better ways to communicate our expectations.
Accept mistakes- If a child forgets to follow your instructions, don’t yell at them for it. Let them fail(read: Why we should let our children fail) and try again.
Breakdown instructions- Giving broken down instructions is an alternative to be “be good.” For example, We can tell a child, guests are coming “Can you please serve them a glass of water when they come?” Give the child action-based instructions to help them understand what you are expecting.
Be consistent- Ensure that your words and actions match. If you tell a child that them being kind makes you happy. Don’t lash out at them if they get average grades. This confuses a child and has a huge impact on their self-confidence.
Encourage individuality- The word “good” is abstract. Every person infers it in a different manner. Allow your child to explore situations and learn from their mistakes. Encourage their individuality instead of giving them guidelines for every situation.
Friend vs parent– Maintain a balance between being a caregiving and a friend. Instead of saying “Be good” or “You have to listen to me as a child.” Allow them to make their own choices and brainstorm with you about why they chose that.
Don’t compare– Lastly, don’t compare one child with another. Every child is unique and has their own level of competency. Let the child grow in their own time.
Remember, we all want to raise our children in the best way possible. However, the best need not be as per societal rules of just being “good”. Let raise children who are kind to themselves and others instead.
Here is a quick refrigerator sheet for you:
1. Good is an abstract concept.
2. Set clear instructions.
3. Let the child explore and learn on their own.
4. Don’t compare.