Did you grow up hearing phrases like, ’She’s a naughty child’? My mum frequently said it about me. I was the child who was always pushing the limits – the child testing the boundaries.
Fast forward to 2015.
I’m the last out the door and everyone is already in the car.
My adult son teasingly eases the car forward, as though he’ll leave me behind. I jump into the back seat and smilingly exclaim to him,
‘Oh, you’re naughty!’
’Naughty,’ repeats my toddler grandson.
‘’That’s a new word,’ says his mother. ‘He’s never heard that one before!’
As we travel I muse how much I appreciate that his parents never label him as ‘naughty’. They never refer to him as a ‘bold child’, even at times when he’s acting out. They are aware that when his behaviour is challenging for them, there’s something going on for him that needs attention. He’s not ‘naughty’!
‘Isn’t it strange, ‘ I comment. ‘We never use the word “naughty” to describe an adult, unless we say ‘He has a naughty sense of humour,” or “naughty underwear”.’ We give this term a different meaning for adults. When we talk about a child being naughty, whether it’s a toddler tantrum, a child who won’t listen, or a defiant child, what we’re really meaning is, ‘My child won’t do what he’s told,’ ‘My child won’t comply.’ In other words, we’re saying, ‘My child won’t follow my agenda.’ But just because your child is choosing to follow his one path, not yours, doesn’t mean he deserves a shaming label.
‘Do you have a word in Danish for “naughty?”‘ I ask Sophia.
‘No, not really,’ she says. ‘If we were talking about a child who seems to be always acting out we might comment that the child was, “Uopdragen”. “Opdrage” means, “to raise”. So “uopdragen” literally means “unraised”. ‘
As we drive along the highway I muse on this. “Uopdragen – unraised,” isn’t saying the child is “naughty”; it isn’t shaming the child. It isn’t making the child “wrong”. It’s saying the parent hasn’t fulfilled the responsibility of raising the child; the parent hasn’t given the child the support and skills needed to interact successfully.
I think the Danes are recognising something significant here; it’s our job as parents to successfully raise our children. To “opdrage” – to raise your child, whether your child is “easy to raise” or challenging – takes mindful parenting, commitment and consistency.
As parents it is our responsibility to raise a child. This is our task – blaming or shaming our child won’t achieve what’s needed.
5 Parenting Tips for when you might be tempted to label your child as ‘naughty’.
1. Your children’s behaviour is about them, your response is about you.
When your children act out, it doesn’t mean you’re a “bad parent”. It means your children are trying to let you know something is “not ok” for them. If you let your thoughts run away with, “What will other people think?” you won’t be able to focus on what your child needs.
2. Respond rather than React
Think of ‘React’ as in a knee-jerk reaction – instant and without thinking. In any situation you have a split second to determine whether this is an emergency, (where you need to instantly react to ensure safety) or whether to pause and assess what’s needed. In most situations, except for “emergency” concerns, if you want to “raise your child”, it’s more helpful to pause to assess, then respond in a way that gives your child the message, “I’m here for you.”
2. Focus on your breathing.
When you want to respond, but can feel your own anger or anxiety is likely to overwhelm, take a moment to focus on slowing and steadying your breathing. When your own strong emotions get in the way it becomes impossible to figure out what’s needed in that moment to effectively ‘raise a child’. When you steady your breathing you will steady your thoughts.
3. Remember to ‘HALT’.
When you need to deal with your child’s challenging behaviour, first stop and use the ‘HALT signpost‘ to ask yourself, ‘Is my child Hungry? / Anxious or Angry? / Lonely or iLL? / Tired?’ When you respond to your child’s needs often the challenging behaviour will dissipate. Ask yourself, ‘What’s really needed here?’
4. Remember, ‘All behaviour makes sense.’
Often our children’s challenging behaviour can be frustrating or worrying for us as parents. Remember your children are not “naughty” and they not trying to “get at you”. They are trying to let you know they are in a “not-okay” place. They are acting out because they need your support. Ask yourself, ‘What might this behaviour be telling me?’
5. Recognise a Challenging Moment is a Teaching Opportunity
Maybe it’s a teaching moment for yourself as parent – about what works, what doesn’t and what’s needed. And sometimes it’s an opportunity for you to help your child learn about life. Most times that lesson is not a lecture, but what we model. The lesson is in our actions. Maybe it’s a lesson of, “You are loved, no matter what,’ or a lesson in kindness, a lesson in, ‘I trust you.’ What lessons do you most want your child to learn?
For more parenting tips about how to ‘raise’ your child, particularly at times when their behaviour is challenging, see new Parenting book, ‘BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t by Val Mullally.