Children are Naughty?

Parents say it, teachers say it, children say it and I used to say it.  

“Children are naughty,” “they’re just being naughty,” “leave them, they’re deliberately being naughty,” or my favourite one “they know I hate it when they are naughty, so they like to be naughty to annoy me and get on my nerves.”

After working with children for years I hate the word naughty for numerous reasons. Firstly I hate it because children and especially groups of children for example in daycare or school like to call other children naughty a lot. 

I’m sure you’ve heard something like this from children “I’ll tell my Mum that you’re being naughty.” Or “if you don’t give me your pen I’ll tell the teacher that you are naughty.” 

A lot of young children feel that it is the end of the world when they have been naughty because they know that what follows isn’t going to be good and they don’t want to get in trouble. 

So children bring out the naughty word with other children to try and get something they want or to feel a sense of power. It just gets tiring as a teacher though when you have all the kids coming up saying “so and so called me naughty” and crying because they don’t want to get into trouble or be punished.  

I also find it really sad that one word has so much power, influence and fear for children. Most of the time when children are called naughty they actually haven’t been naughty at all. Often they have behaved in a way that is developmentally appropriate or they’ve never been taught how to behave appropriately in those situations. 

I know it’s really hard to know what to do most of the time when it comes to tantrums, meltdowns, fights, biting and hitting etc. And most of us don’t know what is and isn’t age appropriate.  

For my first few years of teaching I didn’t handle these types of situations very well. I either froze up or got angry and punished the children. Neither method worked so I searched to find something that was more effective. 

Then, after reading how children regulate their emotions and develop social emotional skills I felt terrible that I had been punishing children or making them feel bad for how they were feeling and how they behaved.  

So after some time sitting in my pool of guilt, my thoughts moved to confusion about why no-one knows or is taught about how social emotional skills in infancy and early childhood develops. Instead we are taught about behaviour management, consequences, time-outs and rewards, which don’t work for most children and they have negative longterm effects when used incorrectly. 

By educating parents, educators and carers about early childhood development and in particular the stages of development of emotional regulation we are more likely to see a higher number of children being provided with a strong foundation for healthy development. 

All areas of development (social/emotional/intellectual/language/motor) are linked. Each depends on, and influences, the others. Relationships are the foundation of a child’s healthy development
— Healthy Minds: Nurturing Your Child’s Development from 0-2 Months, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2003

The 3 stages of development of emotional regulation:

  1. Initially adults have to regulate infant’s emotions. Adults need to calm the infant’s distress for them and this may be through holding, rocking or patting. 
  2. Next, children’s feelings can be managed with the help of an adult and this is called co-regulation of emotions. 
  3. Finally, the child can manage their feelings on their own and this is called self-regulation of emotions. 
The best way to help children calm down from strong emotional states is through
connection and empathy. This approach also teaches children how to regulate their own
emotions. Importantly, it also teaches kids that they can always seek the help of an adult,
no matter how they’re feeling.
— Dr Kaylene Hendersen, Child Psychiartrist, Raising Good Kids, Professional Course 2, Module 4 Handout

Tips to assist children to calm down:

  • Stay calm and in control
  • Bend down so that you are eye level with the child
  • Mirror their facial expression
  • Identify and vocalise what they might be feeling and why “You’re feeling angry and upset that Jimmy drew on your picture.” 
  • Help them try to make sense of what has or is happening “you want the toy that Rose has and it can be hard to wait your turn.”
  • Offer support and a place to chill out “how about we go together and play with the blocks until Rose has finished playing and it is your turn?” 
  • When the child is calm, then you can have a discussion and use it as a teaching moment. “What could you do next time?” “How do you think your friend felt when you hit her?” “Tell me what happened?” 
Remember the goal is to teach children to manage their emotions and to learn how to
make good behavioural choices, even when they’re upset.
— Dr Kaylene Hendersen, Child Psychiartrist, Raising Good Kids, Professional Course 2, Module 4 Handout

What do you think? Are children naughty? 

Annabel Tannenbaum2 Comments