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Good Dogs and Bad Kids

At least 20 times today I said something that I should not say. Repetitively, I caught myself telling the Big Blue Dog that he is a 'good dog'. While there may be good dogs (and I think I have one of the best), there are no bad kids.
There are no bad kids. There are millions of kids that make bad (or less than helpful) choices. There are even many kids that have never been taught what choices will benefit them. The actions of a child may have negative consequences for the child or for someone else, but the value of the child does not change based on his or her behavior. Even the child that talks back, hits his or her siblings, and cheats on tests at school is a valuable life that requires love, nurturing, provision, and even discipline (discipline is not punishment).
When we reprimand a child with "bad boy" or "bad girl", whether the specific behavior is addressed or not, we are clearly communicating that whether said child is a 'good child' or a 'bad child' is dependent on how he or she behaves. To be a 'bad child' means he or she is not good enough. Not good enough is a form of rejection in itself. Each of us has an inherent need to be accepted just as we are. The terms 'bad boy' and 'bad girl' suggest that one will never be accepted just the way he or she is. Even though we all have areas in need of improvement, you are a valuable, wonderful person just the way you are.
Even the terms "good boy" or "good girl" introduce the concept that the child's value is being judged and he or she could at some point be judged as "bad". In cases of adoption, this idea is even more pertinent because the child has an ingrained fear of rejection; even the possibility of "bad" can contribute to insecurity in a child. 
While there may be good dogs (and I still think I have one of the best), when we use that phrase with our pets, we are rehearsing using it and making it more likely we will say it to our children. Most of us had parents that would tell us to "be a good girl at grandma's house" or some other variation of the theme, and most of us survived with healthy parent-child relationships and functional self-esteem. Just because we were not irreparably damaged, does not mean that we cannot do better for our children, especially those children who have been adopted and require intentional, focused parenting. 
I am writing this to move beyond catching myself saying something that I should not. Just because the Big Blue Dog does not understand English, does not mean I should allow myself to establish a habit that is less than positive for any child with whom I interact, including my own. I laughed at myself earlier this week, when I said "Thank you for carrying your toy for me; that is very responsible of you" to the Big Blue Dog, yet that is exactly the kind of specific, positive reinforcement that I want ingrained in me. I hope that you will also consider eliminating value-statements from your own vocabulary for the benefit of your children. While there may be good dogs, there are no bad kids. 

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thecatsmeow 2/13/2011 8:44 PM
Funnily enough, I remember having a similar train of thought when my daughter was a baby. I didn't particularly enjoy being called a "bad girl" when I was a child and I wanted to change it for my daughter (fortunately I was able to retrain my parents too!). I still called her a good girl when she was, but when she was acting up, I would tell her that she was DOING bad, rather than that she herself was bad. Occasionally she'd do something deliberately naughty when I was in the room, look at me and go "I do bad." and march herself over to the Time Out chair.

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