Following on from yesterday’s post about reward charts at Christmas, I thought I’d write another in a similar vein.
I hate it when parents tell their children, “you can have that if you’re good.” or “we’ll go to the park if you can behave.
What does that even mean? The idea of being “good” or “behaving” is so subjective and dependent on circumstance, isn’t it?
Today it’s “naughty” to run across the road, but yesterday it was fine to run around the park.
Today I’m not allowed to get excited and giggle and jump, but yesterday Mummy was tickling me and giggling with me.
Today I’m not supposed to shout, but yesterday Daddy was shouting at me.
We all seem to forget that children are born without any sense of social norms. They don’t know what “being good” is, and since the definition can change daily, isn’t it a bit unfair to hold them to ransom by it?
This reminds me so much of the baby “experts” trying to tell mothers that their tiny babies are somehow trying to manipulate them. Babies aren’t born with any concept of control, manipulation, good or bad. They’re just born.
I remember when I was a child, one of my mum’s friends came over for lunch. We all loved her and were really looking forward to seeing her. We had a great time with her. After she’d left, my mum told us off, saying it had been “like a monkey’s tea party.” I had no clue what she was talking about; we’d just had fun with Jennie, same as we always had. If she’d said to us “please don’t jump on Jennie while she is trying to eat her sandwich” or something, we might have stood a chance.
Having spent time with children whose boundaries were never set in stone, and often changed by the hour, I know that this sort of thing does not make for contented, secure childhood. 


It’s ok to do this now, because my parent is too tired to pay attention, but yesterday I was told not to do it, and tomorrow I’ll be hit for doing it… but I’m doing exactly the same thing.


I avoid saying “good girl” to S at all. I know other people say it, and they say it at nursery, but I never say it. I say “wow you did really well at that!” or if she comes to me to put her coat on I say “thank you!” If she eats all her tea I say “wow you must have been hungry today!” I say “thank you” in place of “good girl” in most instances – which may be why she says “da-doo” so much now.
I don’t want her to think her being “good” is dependent on some random, changeable set of unspecified rules. She’s “good” if she gives me a kiss, “good” if she puts her shoes on, “good” if she gets into her pyjamas without a fight?
So instead of saying “we’ll go to the park if you’re good” or “if you can behave, you can have a sweet” how about “if we can get all the way around town without you running away from me, we will go to the park” or “if you sit still on the bus home we will have sweets?”
And yes, I’m fully aware that this is all largely academic to me now, while I’m blessed with an angel of a 19 month old who can’t answer back yet; but I’m determined that my attitude will remain the same, even on the most testing of walks to nursery.


Vicky is a mother, a blogger, a podcaster and a social media trainer. She writes about life as a single mother, parenting and lifestyle type things.


Firefly Phil · 07/12/2014 at 09:14

A very well written and thought-provoking post; why use the same word for so many different concepts?
On reflection, we commonly use lots of different words in order to give negative responses. Why round up all the positive ones into just one?

    Vicky Charles · 07/12/2014 at 10:56

    Remember in school and your teacher used to say not to use “nice” to describe things?
    I think the problem with “good” in this context is that it’s so subjective – what was “good” in a situation yesterday is “bad” today in a different context. I try my hardest to be specific about the positive things I want to encourage and the negatives I want to discourage.

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