Adult: So what is it that grown-ups do to make children feel bad?

Child: Smack them, shout at them, and make them sit on the naughty step, or make them do something else that they don’t like.

Anything else?

Oh yes, and tell them that they’re naughty, over and over again.

All because grown-ups believe in naughty.

So what’s it going to be like when there’s no such thing as naughty?

Grown-ups won’t interpret children’s behaviour as naughty anymore.

What will they do instead?

They’ll be able to understand and guide children in more helpful ways.

Will children be allowed to cry?

They’ll be allowed to feel sad, to worry and to feel anger.

Will they have to say sorry?

They won’t think that emotions like sadness and anger are wrong, so they won’t feel bad about those feelings.

So they won’t have to say sorry?

There won’t be so much to say sorry for.

Is that because they won’t think that they’re naughty?

That’s right, no more thinking that upsetting feelings and “naughty” go together.

So what will children think about when they don’t think about naughty anymore?

Just as it is now, children will feel all kinds of emotions, but they won’t think their behaviour is naughty.

So what will they think?

They’ll think about their feelings more and their behaviour less, and they won’t feel criticized and judged.Happy kids in the future who don't know about naughty - There's no such thing as naughtyWhat do you mean, judged?

On the day you were born, no one judged you as either good or naughty.

I didn’t know about “naughty” when I was a baby.

But a child can become naughty at any moment.

When does it happen? When do children become naughty?

Some are very young, and some older.

So it can happen at any time?

It happens the very moment an adult tells a child they’re naughty.

Then they know all about it.

Toddlers don’t know about “naughty” until someone tells them about it.

So we don’t know we’re naughty at first. We have to learn it.

Yes, it’s something that grown-ups teach children—first at home, then at nursery school and then at big school.

I think grown-ups should stop telling children they’re naughty.

Then there would be no more naughty.

We should just forget all about it.

Imagine no more thinking about whether your behaviour is good or naughty.

I can just be me, like when I was a little baby.

So what would it be like if you could just be you?

I wouldn’t have to think about when I’m naughty, and how I can be good?

Who would you be then?

I’d just be me and be happy, without being sad or worried about it. I’d be thinking about playing and having fun with my friends. I’d be playing with my pet rabbit Smudge and my two guinea pigs, Beauty and Buttercup.

Now, when your Mum or Dad or teacher at school think that you’ve been naughty and punish you, how does that make you feel?

Mean, horrible and frightened. I think my Mum or my Dad doesn’t love me anymore, and when it’s my teacher, I think she doesn’t like me.

So punishment is a way of withdrawing love.

It makes me feel all alone.

What happens when someone feels all alone and doesn’t feel loved?

I think they feel hurt, sad and angry inside.

And how do they show those feelings?

That’s easy. They’re naughty!

Very good, and when the opposite happens, and children feel understood and cared for, how do you think that is for them?

That’s like love.

Those children are more likely to like themselves and care about others.

So when children don’t think about naughty, are they nice?

Well, there’s more space for thoughtfulness, care and love.

So if there was no more naughty, would I think about naughty anymore?

You wouldn’t think about your behaviour in that way, and you wouldn’t feel like you were naughty.

No more feeling bad inside, yay!

Imagine a world filled to the brim with children not knowing about naughty, and not being punished for what they do.

But would children still cry?

Children would still have lots of feelings to deal with.

And sometimes children wouldn’t be so nice, and they’d do things that grown-ups don’t like them doing, wouldn’t they?

Grown-ups would better understand that children show their feelings through their behaviour.

So what would the grown-ups do about all the behaviour they didn’t like?

It’s the job of grown-ups to be available, sensitive and understanding, and for children to know they’re loved, no matter what they do.

I think children would love that.

Then children would be less likely to hurt others, because they wouldn’t feel so hurt and angry with themselves, other children, grown-ups or the world.

So all grown-ups need to do is care about how a child feels inside.

And let the behaviour take care of itself.

What does that mean?

That behaviour is a natural expression of a child’s thoughts and feelings.

So what would a world without naughty and punishment be like?

It would open parents up to new thinking about how to parent children.

Then what would happen?

Children would be more likely to develop into caring, compassionate grown-ups who don’t automatically see children as naughty and punish them.

I can’t wait for all of that to come true.

What’s already true is that there really is no such thing as naughty.

I know, it only exists in the mind, doesn’t it?

One day you might be a Mummy, and your children could be like the children I told you about earlier.

The ones who never got to know about naughty, because no one told them about it?

And no one ever punished them for being naughty.

When I grow up, I’d like to have two children like those two children, who don’t know about naughty and are never punished.

Then your children will never be naughty, because naughty won’t exist.

And I won’t tell them about it, never ever.

It’ll be wonderful for them to have a Mummy like you’re going to be, a Mummy that knows there’s no such thing as naughty.A grownup that doesn't know about naughty comforting child - There's no such thing as naughtyWhat about my children’s children and their children’s children?

It starts with you, and then it’s going to go on and on and on.

No more naughty forever and ever, yay!

This piece is the last in a nine-part series of fiction stories that critically examines the use of the word “naughty”—by parents and other authority figures—to describe children who aren’t acting as the authority figures wish.

To access all the stories, visit the author’s Contributor page.

Read the previous story in the series, THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS NAUGHTY: The perfectly imperfect everything»

Author bio:

Dr. Mike Larcombe is a Clinical Psychologist working in the U.K. “There’s No Such Thing as Naughty” was written some years ago, and is a fictionalized account of some genuine conversations about “naughty” he had with young children.
Illustrator bio:

Amy O’Neil graduated from University of the Arts London. She spends her time writing fiction, drawing and travelling with her partner and son. She currently lives in Latvia, where she’s finishing her first novel. If you’d like to get in touch with Amy, you can email her at amygrace2@gmail.com.