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My Four Year Old Doesn’t Know What the Word ‘Naughty’ Means

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A few months ago, we were walking with a friend and we saw some older kids in the neighborhood getting into some mischief. My friend said to my daughter, “Those boys are being naughty!” My daughter looked at me and whispered, “What does ‘naughty’ mean? 

My four year old didn’t know the word naughty because I’ve never used it in front of her. Children are not naughty. Children are not born full of sin. All children, (especially babies, toddlers and preschoolers), are not capable of purposely being manipulative, conniving, deceitful or ‘naughty’.

When a child acts out or exhibits undesirable behaviour, it’s because he or she has an unmet need. An unmet need such as the inability to communicate, lack of knowledge in a situation, feeling powerless in a situation or feeling fear, anger or sadness: all of these can cause a child to act naughty.

Are my kids annoying sometimes? OF COURSE THEY ARE! Believe me, we have our moments. But are they naughty? No. No way.

But, I’ll tell you what. More often than not, my kids behave pretty well and cooperate most time. I don’t use time out/time in. I don’t smack. I don’t shame, bribe, punish or reward.

There are ways out there to get kids to ‘behave‘ while at the same time treating them with respect. This is what we do to keep them from acting ‘naughty‘:

  • I allow my children to cry and to rage freely (as long as they don’t hurt themselves, others or things and we’re in a semi-appropriate place for it). I don’t distract them from their feelings. If they’re about to cry, I don’t tell them to look at the dog instead. I don’t tell them to go away and come back when they’re calm. I don’t even tell them to ‘use their words’. I let them cry and protest in my presense. When they’re finished with their tantrum, and I’ve let them really express their emotions, they are always so much happier and we can talk later. If they’re allowed to express their feelings with as little interruption as possible, they don’t feel the need to act out later on down the track.
  • I use games and play to get my kids to cooperate and overcome fears. I make sure they have had enough connection time and use lots of loving touch, in the form of hugs, cuddles, babywearing, etc. I’ve done a recent post on the cooperation thing here.
  • I let my kids have as much autonomy in their life as they can by giving them options to choose from. For example, let them choose what they want to wear, what play activities they want to do or where they want to go on family outings, etc. When kids feel that they have power in a situation, they are less likely to act ‘naughty‘.
  • I make sure my kids get plenty of exercise. Often times when a child is acting ‘naughty‘, it’s simply because they have too much pent up energy! I also check to make sure that they’re eating well and getting enough sleep.

I know that my kids are little and they’re still learning about the world around them. But, whenever any child, of any age, starts acting out, it’s because there is some part of them inside that is crying for help. I can’t ever call a child naughty because I know that they have no concept of purposely doing something wrong.

A child’s actions will mirror exactly how they are feeling inside. If I see a child acting ‘naughty‘, I know that there is something going on inside. Some need for connection or understanding has to happen. I’m a high school teacher and I see the same thing happen when teenagers misbehave. They too, are looking for connection and understanding.

My daughter knows now what the word ‘naughty‘ means, because I’ve told her and since that day, she’s recognized that other people say it. But to me, she will never be naughty. I am her safe space. Around me, she can express her emotions freely and I won’t ever call her ‘naughty‘ or tell her she’s being a ‘bad girl‘. When she does act out, I take a good look at the situation and do my best to respond to the situation so that she feels safe and that she is in a place of trust. Because she feels safe in my presence, she doesn’t lie to me. She knows that her feelings of anger or frustration are safe with me. She knows that she won’t get into trouble, so there is no need to hide anything from me. Together, we find a solution that we’re all happy with and we move on.

11 Responses »

  1. Good post, Kate. If you have a moment, would you have a guess at why our 15-month-old screams bloody murder when it’s time for a nappy change? We use cloth nappies, and the more uncomfortable (wet/pooey) he is, the more he screams to and on the change table. He’s also started refusing to sit on the potty if he really has to pee (the more he needs to pee, the more he refuses). He had a cry in my arms after a dramatic change this morning and was ok with getting dressed after that, but the situation in general is getting more stressful for both of us. Ideas? I know that he’s not being naughty.

    • Hi Chris!
      Have you tried changing his nappy while allowing him to stand up. In my experience, babies and toddlers hate laying down for a nappy change. So much indignation! haha! What I also do, is wash the bottom off in the sink and then pat dry. Again, to avoid laying them down. I also find it’s cleaner that way and then pat dry with a towel… then you don’t have to use any wipes. See if that works and let me know if you need anymore help!

      • HeyYa Kate,
        Hmm, ok. I can try washing him in the sink and wiping with the wetted rags I usually use, and then standing him on the bed for dressing. Pinning the nappy closed may be tricky, but I’ll give it a try. I’ll let you know how it goes.

      • Oh! Yeah, pinning might be tricky! But, give it some time, you might find it gets easier with a bit of practice! Let me know how you go!

      • Improvement achieved!
        Now we stand in front of his potty and practice taking off his pants and nappy together. If he’s dry or just wet then he has the opportunity to use the potty. If he’s made poo, I playfully call out “poo poo” and chase him to the bathroom where he gets a sink wash.
        He’s gone from very upset about having a poo-nappy changed on the table to calmly talking about poo-poo while cleaning up in the bathroom sink.
        Thank you.

      • Hey, that is fantastic! Great to hear! Playful parenting for the win!

  2. Hello Kate,
    I just subscribed to your blog, verry interesting.
    One question. How would you deal with a toddler when he is repeatedly doing something you told him not to. ( Like going with toy car over tv screen).
    It seems like he is provoking, because he wil give you a look like “do you see what I’m doing ? The little boy is my nephew. My sister will give him a time out on the naugthy place.
    My firstborn is now 8 months and I like to find an other way of parrenting.
    Any suggestions ?

    • Hi! Yes, there are some really fantastic ways to ‘discipline’ a child. There is a great book called, ‘Attachment Play’ by Aletha Solter, I highly recommend reading it. Usually, when a child that age misbehaves, they are looking for some sort of connection time. If that were me, and my two year old were doing that, I would probably play a game of ‘I’m gonna get you! I’m gonna get your car!” And chase him around a little. Something to elicit laughter and fun. Hope that helps and welcome to Katesurfs 🙂

  3. Hi I have been told by my ex husbands girlfriend that my 4 year old is conniving and a manipulator. She also has expressed that he is a liar and will lie to get attention. I have trouble believing that my son is capable of this at the age of 4. What are your thoughts ? is it possible for a 4 year old to me conniving and manipulating?

  4. Great post. Well said. You have clearly explained my inclinations towards not using the naughty word and not punishing…there is always something beneath the suface, as a mother I can see/sense this. And yes at this age if they feel safe, lying is not necessary. They are still natural and more in tune with the essence of love and light within…and yes will react when their surroundings reflect otherwise and their needs are not met…Thanks again…ive shared.

  5. Pingback: My child is not naughty… | Cloth Books for Baby

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