Illustration of father bringing daughter new fries at McDonald's

Adult: Tell me, what happens when you’re naughty?

Child: When I’m naughty, my Mum becomes very cross. Sometimes Mummy shouts and sometimes she smacks, and sometimes she cries. Sometimes she shuts me in her room where there are no toys to play with.

Is there any more you’d like to tell me about naughty?

If I said “poo” at home, my Mum would tell me to go to my room and think about what I said. My Dad would just scream at me. My Mum screams at my brothers when they’re naughty. When my Mum tells me to go to my room and think about what I’ve done, I don’t do it. I stay on the landing and play with the dog until she forgets all about it.

So are you naughty?

Sometimes I am and sometimes I’m not, and sometimes I’m very, very naughty.

So sometimes, you’re very, very naughty?

Not all the time, only sometimes.

Tell me about that.

I was in McDonald’s with my Dad and I said, “These fries are very cold.”  I said that because they were cold. My Dad then said in a grumpy way, “Oh, alright, I’ll get you some more.”

I like fries, but not when they’re cold; then, I won’t eat them because they don’t taste nice.

My Dad took the cold fries to the counter and after quite a long time, he came back with new fries. He told me to be careful, as they were very hot.

Then what happened?

I said, “Dad, why did you get me hot fries when I don’t even want them?”

Why did you say that?

I’d eaten my chicken nuggets and my tummy was full.

What did your Dad say about it?

My Dad became very angry. “Why did you say you wanted hot fries? You made me go and ask for them to be changed, and now you say that you don’t want them. Why are you trying to be so difficult? Why are you trying to wind me up? You’re so naughty.”

What did you do?

I cried.

Oh dear, but by the time he came back, things had changed, hadn’t they?

I’d eaten my chicken nuggets and my tummy was full, so I didn’t want fries anymore.

You didn’t ask your Dad to go get hot fries, did you?

I never asked for them. I only told him the other ones were cold.

But your Dad thought you wanted him to change them, didn’t he? 

I don’t know. He just took them back and got some more.

I think your Dad didn’t know that by the time he came back, you would’ve eaten your chicken nuggets and it would all be too late. 

I never asked him to get me any more fries, did I?

No, you didn’t, you just said that the fries were cold.

That’s why I didn’t want to eat them.

Did you mind that he changed them?

No, I didn’t mind, but when he got back my tummy was full and I wasn’t hungry anymore.

Did you realize your Dad would be so angry with you for not wanting to eat your fries?

No, I didn’t. My Daddy doesn’t usually get angry when my tummy is full. He understands when I don’t want to eat anymore.

Were you naughty?

Dad said I was.

How were you naughty?

I made my Dad very angry and upset.

How did you do that?

I don’t know. I must’ve done something wrong or he wouldn’t have gotten so very angry.

So your Dad was angry with you and therefore you must have done something wrong, is that right?

Yes, I must have, or he wouldn’t have been so angry.

Your Dad was angry with you, therefore you were naughty, right?

Yes, that’s it, children know they’re naughty when a grown-up is angry with them.Angry middle-aged woman pointing finger - There's no such thing as naughtyBut sometimes children don’t know what they did wrong, so at the time, they didn’t even know they were being naughty.

Just like me.

So what did you think after your Dad said you were naughty?

That I’d done something very wrong.

How did you feel?

I felt very sad that I’d made my dad so upset and angry.

And what did you do?

I cried and said I was very, very sorry.

Well, I don’t think you were naughty, not at all.

Why not?

I think your Dad didn’t like asking for the fries to be changed. 

Mummy says he doesn’t like making a fuss about things.

When you didn’t want the fries, he felt it had done it all for nothing, and then he thought it was all your fault.

Well, I must’ve done something wrong?

The fries were cold, was that your fault?


Then your Dad changed them, was that your fault?


Your tummy was full, was that your fault?


Your Dad might’ve even thought that you did it on purpose to annoy him.

I’d never want to hurt my Dad like that.

So what was your fault?

I made my Dad very angry. I don’t know what I did wrong, but I must’ve done something.

Perhaps your Dad was angry because he thought you wanted him to change the fries?

But I never said I wanted him to do that and he didn’t ask me. He just got some more, so it wasn’t my fault.

Perhaps your Dad made a mistake and it was all a misunderstanding.

Yes, it was all a misunderstanding.

Are misunderstanding and mistakes anyone’s fault?

I don’t think so.

Are misunderstandings and mistakes naughty?


So were you naughty?

I guess not.

Was your Dad naughty?

I don’t know.

He misunderstood because he assumed you wanted him to change the fries over.

I just said my fries were cold.

Then he made a mistake by changing them without thinking it through or checking it out with you.

He never asked me what I wanted.

And then when you didn’t want them, he became upset and angry.

Then he really told me off.

When it’s a misunderstanding or a mistake, no one is naughty.

Misunderstandings and mistakes aren’t naughty, are they?

You know, there really is no such thing as naughty, not at all.

Read the previous article in this series, THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS NAUGHTY: It’s just a concept we’ve made up»

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

image 2: Pixabay