Why We Need To Stop Calling Children “Naughty”

What’s the problem with calling children “naughty”?

Labelling children helps nobody, least of all the child. The words we use about children can and do change the way we think about them. If we call a child, or their behaviour, naughty enough we will start to see them that way, which changes the way we subconsciously treat them. The result? We can encourage more of the undesired behaviour, because we are constantly on alert for it.

What effect does this labeling have on a child? Do you remember when you were a child and somebody called you something derogatory? Perhaps they called you clumsy, said you had two left feet, told you that you were slow, or implied you weren’t clever. Did it have an impact on your self esteem and confidence? Perhaps you avoided sport, or dancing, or perhaps you believed that you weren’t good at something so didn’t try. The words we use about (and to) our children underline their self-belief system. If they believe they are naughty you create a nocebo effect. They start to behave in naughty ways simply because that’s what they believe is expected of them.

The biggest problem with the term though, is that it does children a huge disservice by not uncovering the real cause of the difficult behaviour. No child *wants* to ‘be naughty’. They are ‘naughty’ because they are struggling with something and can’t behave any better at that moment in time. Motivation isn’t a problem, so punishing them when they’re ‘naughty’, or rewarding them when they’re ‘good’ won’t help, but it could make behaviour worse by treating it so superficially.

So, what is underlying ‘naughty’ behaviour? Fear, anxiety, anger, grief, trauma, confusion, frustration, needing connection, tiredness, hunger, neurological capabilities….so many big feelings and needs that are missed when we write a behaviour off as ‘naughty’. Try to drop the word ‘naughty’ from your vocab and instead, ask yourself “what does my child need? what is causing them to behave this way?” – I promise it will revolutionise your parenting and your connection with your child (and in turn – their behaviour!).

For more on understanding – and changing – child behaviour, check out my ‘Gentle Discipline Book’ available in the UK and the USA


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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