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December 15, 2014

Beyond “Naughty or Nice”

Image: Flickr/Patrick

Image: Flickr/Patrick

“Recently a young mother asked for advice. What, she wanted to know, was she to do with a 7-year-old who was obstreperous, outspoken, and inconveniently willful? “Keep her,” I replied…. “The suffragettes refused to be polite in demanding what they wanted or grateful for getting what they deserved. Works for me.” (Anna Quindlen)

This time of year, parents have been known to put a little extra pressure on their children to behave properly. We’ve even been known to invoke the name of a certain man who keeps a list of kids who are naughty and another list of kids who are nice. But why do we give our kids the impression that it’s always an either/or? Must they be either naughty or nice? Why not both?

For example, we want our children to be considerate of others and mindful of their manners. We want them to share and tell the truth. But, we also want them to be independent and brave. We want them to be able to stand up for themselves and for others. We want them to have a strong will when it matters. And that might mean not being “nice” all the time.

If you have a strong-willed child, be grateful. Rejoice in that. Don’t take it personally when they test out their will on you, and don’t take it upon yourself to “break them” like a horse. Your job is to guide them and teach them the best ways to use that strong will for things that are just and good. Let them know when they’ve crossed the line, but do so with consequences and without malice. Champion their courage while guiding their paths. The world will be better off with a generation like that than one that is mindlessly obedient.

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