I love almost everything about the holiday season. The decorating, the food, the time with people we love, the spirit. So much fun!
Everything except one thing. One thing that happens almost every time we leave the house.
If you’re a child in public you get the question. Or the warning. No one seems immune!
It sounds something like this…
‘Have you been a good girl/boy this year?’
‘Are you being good for Mummy today?’
‘You know Santa only comes to good children, don’t you?’
‘Santa’s watching you know! I hope you’re being good!’
What’s wrong with people being friendly?
I know, I know, people are ‘just trying to be nice’! They really are, I agree. Most of them have good intentions, that’s true.
The thing is, this type of ‘nice’ is unnecessary at best. At worst, it’s manipulative, frightening, perpetuates a societal view of children as inferior, and encourages the belief that children need to be controlled and coerced into being ‘good’ people.
How would it feel to have people remarking on, judging, and questioning your behaviour every time you were in public? To be conspiring against you with others to try to get you to do what they want? To talk about you/your behaviour as if you weren’t even present? To threaten you (nicely, if there’s such a thing) about what will happen if you don’t comply? To be treated as if the most important thing about you is if you are obedient and compliant?
When you think about it, it’s really absurd that we can honestly think this is ok. Children are people and deserve the same respect as anyone else. This behaviour is really not acceptable.
Am I serious? Yes.
Sure, I could ‘lighten up’. Or I could be my child’s advocate and ally.
Instead of saying nothing, smiling awkwardly, or engaging in judging my child based on their behaviour, I can respond in a way that validates and respects my child. I can make it clear that I don’t hold the same beliefs. Maybe I’ll even make people reconsider their words and ideas. I’m ok with that.
10 Responses to ‘Have You Been Good?’
Below are some ideas for what you can say to people who ask the dreaded question, ‘have you been a good girl/boy?’, of your child. Not all of them will feel comfortable for everyone, and it depends on the situation and your goals. Sometimes you might be open to explaining your reasoning, sometimes you might just want to end the conversation. Pick what works for you!
- “All children are good”
- “Oh we don’t believe in that”
- “We don’t do the naughty and nice stuff”
- “We don’t worry about that silly story”
- “We’re not into labelling people”
- “It’s ok, they know that’s just something adults say to get kids to do what they want”
- “Oh, we don’t threaten them. They know Christmas is for everyone”
- “What about you? Have YOU been good?”
- “It’s strange how many people are asking you that, isn’t it? You don’t have to answer” (to the child)
- “It’s ok, there’s no such thing as a naughty list” (to the child)
What’s better than ‘have you been good’?
I think many people ask this question simply because it is what they know. Everyone does it. It’s just what you do at Christmas time. But our words matter.
There are many other ways you can interact with children, just the same as you can with an adult. Why not simply ask ‘are you looking forward to Christmas?’, or ‘what is your favourite part of the holidays?’, or ‘who will you be spending this Christmas with?’ Those would be much more respectful (and interesting!) questions.
If we want to change how children are treated, if we want to take a stand against childism, then the little things matter. The words we use have an impact.
Sure, it’s only for a couple of months a year and parents have a much bigger impact than strangers. Yes, these instances are rare in the scheme of things, and we can debrief with them afterwards, which is important too. But we can also show our children we are not afraid to speak up for them or to stand for what we believe in. We can question this ‘tradition’ and make a difference.
Change has to start somewhere.
“As parents, we can choose to be on the frontlines of change. We can choose to change our frame of reference and reject cultural norms of control and domination of children.” -Teresa Graham Brett, Parenting for Social Change