Guest post by Amy from Anktangle
I believe that the language we use to talk about things not only says a lot about how we really feel about something, but also further reinforces those underlying feelings and makes us feel more that way. I think this is why we shouldn't use combative language when referring to difficulties with our children ("choosing your battles" "winning the war"): it sets us up against our children, instead of with them.
I think language is equally important when talking about our kids' everyday behavior—the day in and day out of it. I've noticed that, when it comes to my son, others often refer to him having been "good," when what they really mean is that he has been being quiet or sleeping. ("Was he good last night?" "He's being so good right now!" "What a good baby!") I think it's tempting to talk about those things as being "good," because it's certainly easier when Daniel is sleeping or being quiet when we're out for a meal, appointment, or activity. But I think it's dangerous to be calling those things good, because even though maybe we don't think that a crying baby is bad per se, that is what's implied when we label the opposite or other more desirable actions as good.
My husband and I have gently tried to suggest that others not label our son as good or bad by saying things like, "I think he's always good!" But it seems to be such an ingrained thing in our society to expect "good behavior" from children. What that really means is that we want them to act like little adults all the time, and be able to understand social convention and conform to the status quo. Only when it's convenient for us (and then, is it ever?) are they allowed to act like children.
Just as I wouldn't expect an infant to be able to wait to eat as long as an adult would, I would not expect him to be quiet for hours at a time. In the same way, I wouldn't expect a toddler to be able to make it through the day without testing her limits and getting upset when she can't have her way, or a preschooler to eat a food he doesn't like at someone else's house just to be polite.
The fact is, we would never say that an adult person was being "bad" if he or she was upset and needed to cry. Preverbal children have the added hurdle of not being able to communicate their needs and feelings with words; crying is all they can do. I don't want my son growing up thinking the adults in his life think he's bad when he's crying, that it's bad to cry, or that he should pretend to be happy and sociable and perfect all the time.
Can't we give the same respect to our children that we would expect from another adult friend? I would argue that his expression (through crying) of his desires and feelings has little to say about his character, whether or not he's a good person, no matter how inconvenient it is for us to manage when we're out to dinner. Without getting into too much of a philosophical or theological discussion of human nature, I believe we're all inherently good.
My son is a good person just because. So let's stop labeling our children as "good" or "bad" based on their behaviors.
Amy writes about the things she holds close to her heart: family, delicious food, and many aspects of natural parenting. She is passionate about natural childbirth, breastfeeding, gentle and intuitive parenting, and respecting all people, no matter how small. She's figuring it all out as she goes, following her instincts with her son as her guide. She blogs at Anktangle.