Why I don’t use the word ‘naughty’

Why I don't use the word 'naughty' | Happiness is hereThat’s right, you won’t ever hear me call my children ‘naughty’. I’m sure I can sense a few eye rolls and ‘here she goes again, what else aren’t we allowed to do’ comments from people. Well, you will also know I am going to continue on and explain why regardless. Ha!

Firstly, my children aren’t naughty. They are little people learning to navigate the world and regulate their emotions and behaviours. Sometimes they make mistakes, and that is ok. Even adults still make mistakes. I see absolutely no need for name calling. And that’s really what it is, isn’t it? I would also not call my children bad, stupid, dumb, etc. I always try to put myself in their shoes. How would I feel if someone called me bad or naughty? Probably angry, embarrassed, ashamed, and upset. Those are not the tools I want to use to guide my children. How would my child feel to have her parents, the people who know her best, the people guiding her through life, call her bad or naughty? Well, she might just start to believe it’s true. She might just decide that as I already think of her that way she may as well live up to my expectations.

Calling a child naughty is also not effective in dealing with the situation. It is not communicating what they have done wrong, what your expectations for behaviour are, or what you want them to do now. They might not even understand what the word really means, leading them to keep on doing what they’re doing, and you getting even more frustrated. I really can’t find a positive or useful way to use the word naughty. So what do I try to do instead?

  • I let them know clearly what my expectations are.
  • I explain my reasoning, in a way they can understand.
  • I empathize with them when we are having trouble agreeing on a solution.
  • I give them time to process what I’ve said.
  • I follow through with what I say I am going to do.
  • I go over to them and make sure they are listening to me when I speak to them.
  • Whenever possible I don’t interrupt them when they are clearly in the middle of something.
  • I narrate for them when they are working out an argument instead of jumping in and solving it for them, e.g. It looks like your sister is sad that you snatched the toy off her.
  • I make sure they are not hungry! There have been many times there has been a meltdown and we have later realised it was mostly because they were hungry!

Notice I said this is what I try to do. I am not perfect. A lot of the time it doesn’t go to plan! I get frustrated, they get frustrated, and everyone ends up grumpy. But when I remain calm and think before I act, it really can work out quite smoothly. No need for name calling or shaming.

‘Your words have power. Use them wisely.’ – Unknown

Why I don't use the word 'naughty' | Happiness is here


August 12, 2014 at 7:14 pm

I think this is great. It really makes for emotionally aware kids (and parents).

    August 12, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Thank you so much for reading πŸ™‚

      Jaime-Lynn Shideler
      August 21, 2014 at 10:31 am

      This is so true, I heard lazy no good for nuthin as I grew up and I felt terrible and no longer have good self esteem/confidence. I tell my little girl every day she is loved she is smart and she is worth it. When she gets mad and says bad baby I explain to her that her sister is not bad and that only what she did was not nice, not her. I too struggle with not using the words my parents use when addressing me, it’s hard to break the cycle of poor choice of words but we want to build up our children and not break them down as parents.

      September 22, 2019 at 6:02 pm

      I agree with most of this and think your disciplining tips are great… but I don’t think that saying naughty is the same as saying stupid or bad. They are permanent qualities and describe the person whereas a child can be momentarily ‘naughty’ but overall a beautiful well behaved little person. I praise my child all the time when she is well behaved and see no harm in very occasionally telling her that a certain behaviour is ‘naughty’. I’m saying it is the behaviour that is naughty and not her as a person. I know everyone has very different views on this

August 12, 2014 at 8:33 pm

LOVE IT! thank you, I do my best to do these things as well…….of course, another perfectly imperfect parent…….if we were perfect, how would our children learn about, well, learning. LOL!

August 19, 2014 at 5:21 am

I dropped my daughter off at her Montessori daycare one day when she was a bit modish, and said she was sad because she had been a bit naughty that morning. The manager told me off and said we don’t use that word. It made me think, and I also try to distinguish between her and her actions: what she is doing may be silly but she is not.

August 19, 2014 at 6:02 am

I feel the same way about using words like bad or naughty or even foolish in reference to children. I have told my yahoos that they chose to *do* something that was bad, naughty, or foolish. I want to separate their self-awareness from the act.

Becky Smith
August 19, 2014 at 6:46 am

Thank you, my youngest is so cheeky and goes against what I say then I feel bad for telling her off. Will be working on some of these points xx

August 19, 2014 at 9:54 am

The ;word ‘naughty’ grates against every fibre of my being… a bit like ‘good girl/boy’ does LOL Just like good boy/girl it doesn’t tell the child anything, so it is next to useless! My kids have recently heard the word used on some TV show or movie and now repeat it with this crazy accent thinking it is hysterical, but it still drives me bonkers! LOL

August 19, 2014 at 2:49 pm

No no no…. if you know what you are teaching. .or sharing is helpful please don’t apologise. . I don’t have a mum eny more and I truly appreciate these little (huge) tips…. my four year old tells me she loves me more and more. .. I ask why she says that. .. she replies. . Because mummy loves me…
Having that patients and writing a blog. . You go mum!!!!!!

Thank you for sharing

August 19, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Any advise for teachers to deal with children like this at school? When they’re other children in class, it’s pretty hard to take 10mins reasoning with one chil while neglecting others. HELP!

    August 21, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    That must be difficult! At least I only ever have a 3:1 ratio, LOL. I would just try to keep it simple. It doesn’t have to take long. Just explain in simple terms that they can understand πŸ™‚

    August 22, 2014 at 12:39 am

    Thank you for responding! πŸ™‚ will work on tht and have some class manners beforehand.

    August 27, 2016 at 7:16 am

    In my class I have a basket with a turtle cuddly toy, some sticky notes and pens. They can write a note to the turtle or to me or each other after playtime. Often they just ‘whisper talk’ to the turtle to get a play issue off their chest and we’ve discussed ‘venting’. They love it and they are better able to determine which situations need my immediate attention and which ones they were just bothered by but are easy to solve themselves.
    I also find it easier to have a quick glance over notes and think nope they’re minor and seem sorted or hmm that’s a worry I need to address asap. It has cut back the 10-20mins of after playtime ‘she did this he said that’ etc.

    When I have to sort a big incident, I give each child a moment to quietly tell me their version and then we have a group chat to solve and move forward. I try to get them talking to acknowledge where things went wrong and to acknowledge what they should have said or done so next time they rethink their choices. Most times each student apologises to the other and they move on as I find feelings end up hurt all round and they accept that they all could make a more considerate choice next time.
    It’s opened up the discussion in my room in many ways e.g. Tone of voice, what we say or mean compared to how it can make others feel, how to monitor our own reactions and acknowledge the way we feel before it escalates, strategies such as calmly saying I need some space so they can leave before things escalate, reading others cues such as a student became upset ran awAy crying and a group of girls kept chasing and chasing her they wanted to apologise but she was clearly too upset and needed space first now my students are able to acknowledge that and know to give the person space, not follow them and then they regroup later when they have calmed down.

August 20, 2014 at 8:14 pm

A million times YES!

August 18, 2015 at 1:13 am

I’m always being reprimanded by my daughter for something. At the moment it’s using the word naughty in front of her sons aged nearly 6 and 2.5. I don’t tell them they are naughty but in the past I may have slipped up and said what they had done was. Obviously she agrees with you. She’s also told them they don’t have to apologise for hurting anyone unless they do it accidentally. If they mean it they don’t have to say sorry. This has been met with horror and disapproval when visiting my family. I.e my sister’s grandchildren . I don’t smack or shout. I always try and explain like I did with mine but my 2.5 grandson is very aggressive towards me and his older brother and he sure knows exactly what he’s doing. I never complain to my daughter. But I get complaints always while she’s trying to control me. The boys hear lots of people using the word naughty while we’re out and I get the blame for them using it when they get home , and told in no uncertain terms that it’s NOT
allowed. Everyone I know with small children use it. Not to tell the child they’re naughty just what they’re doing is naughty. The words good and bad are allowed though and I don’t get that. I know far worse words that they could use, and I think once they start school, they’re not really yours anymore and it’s totally unrealistic to think that u have total control and influence over what they say and do after they reach school age

January 22, 2016 at 3:02 pm

I agree that naughty is not really a great word to describe our children behavior. It is more of a reflection of our own feelings about their behavior at that time. The way you feel about naughty, is the way I feel about β€œobey”. My children are not pets. They are human, and will make mistakes. They are asked to do their best, be respectful, use their manners and do a good job. Not to obey. Sorry it is off topic.

August 31, 2016 at 11:03 pm

Totally agree. I wrote a (much shorter) blog post about the word ‘naughty’ not long ago. One of my reasons for not using it is that it doesn’t mean anything; quite literally it means nothing. The word β€˜naughty’ originates from the word β€˜naught’, zero, nothing, worthless. And children are anything but zero, nothing, worthless. πŸ™‚

June 21, 2017 at 8:20 pm

I honestly don’t know what the word naughty means.
It seems to say something about the name-caller rather than the person being shamed, no? It seems to be saying something like, ‘you are doing/being something I don’t like, but rather than me looking at my self and acknowledging what’s going on for me here, I’m going to blame you and unconsciously make you carry my baggage for me. This will work largely because I’m bigger than you and also because in general society validates this kind of psychological projection because I have more power, relatively speaking in this relationship, than you do’.
I mean, I seriously don’t know what the word naughty actually means. Bar this.

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