Young boy sitting in creepy-looking cave, crying - There's no such thing as naughtyAdult: Did you know that there’s no such thing as naughty?

Child: Well, that’s just not true. Everyone knows about naughty.

Not quite everyone. There’s a little girl and a little boy living somewhere in the world who don’t know about naughty.

Why don’t they know?

They don’t know anything about naughty because nobody’s told them about it.

So they don’t have naughty in their world.

That’s quite right. In their world, there really is no such thing as naughty. So they’re never, ever naughty, because naughty doesn’t exist.

A world without naughty, that’s amazing. So they can do whatever they want, whenever they please and are never told off or punished?

They’re never punished because they don’t know about punishment, either.

They must be very, very naughty children then.

No, they can’t be, because they don’t have naughty in their world.

Well, that’s just silly. So if they aren’t naughty, what are they like?

They’re kind, they love and care about their family, friends and themselves, and they listen and help.Two happy kids, boy and girl, holding hands - There's no such thing as naughtyI don’t believe that children can be like that, not all the time.

You’re right, they aren’t like that all of the time.

Are they happy all the time and always having fun?

Sometimes they’re sad, worried, afraid, frustrated or angry just like everybody else.

Ah, so when they’re angry, surely they’re naughty.

No, they’re never naughty, because as I said, in their world there’s no such thing as naughty.

In our world, everyone thinks that children are naughty at least sometimes, don’t they?

Yes, and that’s why we have naughty.

I can’t believe that those children are never naughty. They have to be naughty sometimes. They just have to be!

Well, at times they might do something that’s unkind or even mean to someone else, and sometimes they blame themselves; but whatever they do, they don’t see it as naughty, because in their world, naughty doesn’t exist.

So they never, ever think that they themselves are naughty.

That’s right.

So if they don’t think that they’re naughty, what do they think about themselves?

They understand that they have all sorts of thoughts and all kinds of feelings.

So they think and feel the same as me.

Yes, and just like all of us, they like it when things to go their way, and they don’t like it when things don’t go so well.

I’m sure that sometimes they do things that are hurtful towards others.

Yes, sometimes they do things that hurt others, and what’s more, sometimes they just don’t want to do what a grown-up tells them to do. Sometimes they say no and refuse to do it.

That definitely happens with me.

Oh, and they don’t like it when their Mum or Dad or their teacher at school tells them they can’t do this and they can’t do that. Sometimes, when that happens, they become quite upset. 

Well, that’s just the same as me.

But the difference is, they don’t think any of that is naughty because no one has ever told them about naughty. They think it’s normal to be the way they are.

Oh, I see, so they don’t think that they’re naughty like I am sometimes.

They think it’s normal that sometimes they don’t want to do what a grown-up says they have to do, and sometimes they say, “No, I’m not going to do it.”

Sometimes I don’t want to listen.

They think it’s OK to be disappointed and upset when a grown-up tells them it’s time to stop, or that they can’t do something they want to do, especially when its something they really like doing.

I don’t like it when I’m not allowed to do things, and when I can’t have something I really, really want.

They understand that sometimes they have feelings that they don’t like having, and unkind thoughts about themselves and others, especially when they’re upset or angry.

So in their world, everyone is OK with all of that?

Their parents and teachers understand, and because they care about the children, they try to listen and want to help.

Does anybody tell them they’ve done this wrong or that wrong, and that they need to think about what they did and change or improve their behaviour, like they do with me?

They can be just as they are: to like and not like how things go, and be sad, angry or upset if that’s how they feel, because preferences and feelings are allowed.

Why aren’t grown-ups like that to all children? Why do grown-ups say all of that is naughty? They say, “Do as you’re told now, stop doing that this minute, do this and don’t do that, stop that right now, stop crying and calm down,” and all that telling-off stuff.

Grown-ups think that all children are naughty, at least sometimes, and that some children are more naughty than others.

It’s all because grown-ups believe in naughty, isn’t it?

Grown-ups believe in naughty, and because they do, they tell children that they’re naughty and punish them.

So ‘naughty’ and ‘punishment’ go together.

That’s how our world is, but if there was no naughty, there would be no punishment.

Wow, so have grown-ups made naughty up?

Yes, and what’s more, now that they’ve created and believe in naughty, they’re trying to make children not naughty. They want them to change their behaviour. 

So although grown-ups have made up naughty, it’s not what they want, because they actually don’t want children to be naughty.

They want them to be well-behaved and do what they say, right away. Otherwise, they’re naughty.

And now children believe in naughty as well, don’t they?

Yes, because they believe what the grown-ups believe, and trust that what they tell them is true.

Sometimes I try my best not to be naughty, but I don’t always know what’s naughty. Sometimes my feelings just come out and I’m sad or angry, and then I’m naughty.

Sometimes I just don’t want to do it.

Sometimes I just can’t stop myself and I’m very naughty.

You’re never naughty, never ever, and that’s the truth.

How can that be true, that I’m not naughty, not ever?

Because there really is no such thing as naughty.

Read the second part of this article series, THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS NAUGHTY: The McDonald’s incident»

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.