Adult: What do you think happens to naughty children who become naughty grown-ups?

Child: The bad people go to prison, don’t they?

Prisons are full of people whom, when they were children, were told they were naughty and were punished over and over again.So-called naughty child grown up and in prison cell - There's no such thing as naughtySo are prisons like the naughty step, where prisoners have to think about what they did for a very long time, until they’re sorry?

That’s the idea, but punishment is all about hurting someone because they did something wrong or hurt someone else.

But everyone knows when they’re naughty, right?

What we do depends on our thoughts, so how we think about right and wrong depends on our experiences and how we’ve been influenced by others.

So it all depends on what happened to us in the past?

What people said and did to us.

So if you tell me I’m naughty today, I’ll be naughty tomorrow.

Exactly, and if that was done to you every day, you’d become the naughty child that no one wanted in the first place.

And then a naughty grown-up?

If you want a naughty grown-up, make a naughty child first!

But we get to choose between right and wrong, don’t we? That’s on us, right?

We’re responsible for our own actions, but what’s wrong in one person’s eyes might not be so wrong—or wrong at all—in another person’s eyes.

Like when Dads say, “Hit them back!”

Adults usually think there are fair and justifiable reasons for what they do.

So do naughty people actually think they’re naughty?

Not usually, as people think of all sorts of reasons to justify why they do what they do.

But if we didn’t have naughty in the first place, some children would still turn into very bad grown-ups, wouldn’t they?

If, from tomorrow, every grown-up in the whole wide world stopped telling children they’re naughty, and stopped punishing them for being naughty, what do you think would happen?

I don’t know, and that will never happen.

Just imagine if grown-ups really did stop seeing children’s behaviour as naughty.

Well, there wouldn’t be any naughty children. There couldn’t be, because children wouldn’t know about naughty.

There can only be naughty children in the world for as long as grown-ups think there are.

So when grown-ups actually stop thinking about naughty, what will happen?

All the naughty children will be gone, forever and ever.

And what about naughty grown-ups?

When there’s no such thing as naughty children, do you think that in the future, there will be more or less naughty grown-ups?

It has to be less, doesn’t it?

The more naughty children we have now, the more naughty grown-ups we’ll have in the future.

So grown-ups need to stop telling children they’re naughty, don’t they?

Then there won’t be so many turning into grown-ups who, in one way or another, have difficulties or get into trouble.

Then all children will be just like the two children you told me about earlier, the ones who don’t even know about naughty.

Yes, but the strange thing is, grown-ups think in the opposite way.

What do you mean?

Grown-ups think that if they stop punishing children for being naughty, they’ll become naughtier than ever, and there’ll be even more grown-ups getting into trouble.

But you think about it the other way, don’t you?

If all the grown-ups stopped thinking that children are naughty, they wouldn’t be naughty anymore.

Because naughty wouldn’t exist anymore, right?

Children would still sometimes do things that grown-ups don’t want them to do.

Like when sometimes, my Mum tells me to do something, and I don’t do it.

Children would still act out their hurt or angry feelings.

But children wouldn’t think any of that is naughty, would they?

Then what do you think would happen?

They wouldn’t feel bad about their behaviour, and they wouldn’t think they were naughty.

When children are punished for being naughty, they feel bad and hurt inside. Then they learn to automatically think that they’re naughty, and then they are naughty.

So “naughty” just makes things worse.

If children could stop thinking about themselves as naughty, they wouldn’t think that it’s wrong to feel their feelings.

So they wouldn’t feel bad about having feelings.

And they wouldn’t think that it’s wrong to want things to be different from how they are.

I want it all my own way—at least, that’s what my Dad says to me sometimes.

Children might learn that it’s normal to want things to go your way (just like grown-ups do!) and to be upset when you can’t have it your way—and that all of that is OK.

Sometimes I cry when I can’t have something I want.

Grown-ups might also stop thinking that children should be happy all the time and never upset, or that when children cry, they should stop.

So how can parents help change their children’s behaviour without punishing them?

If parents were to stop focusing on punishment, and instead try to listen, understand and help, children would be more likely to feel loved and cared for.

That sounds nice, but would it change their behaviour?

When parents are there for their children; when they’re sensitive towards them and praise them in genuine ways; when they like having them around, love them and enjoy them, then how do you think the children will feel?Loving parents who don't know about naughty holding baby - There's no such thing as naughtyThey’ll feel good inside, because they’ll think their parents love them very much.

Children who feel that way demonstrate different behaviour than the others. They’re more understanding, reasonable and co-operative, and they become independent little people.

So grown-ups should just let children get on with it.

By accepting them as they are by just letting them be themselves.

Without teaching them to feel bad about their behaviour.

The more loved and understood a child feels, the happier they are, and the more likely they are to behave in responsible and caring ways, with respect for themselves and others.

But parents are busy, and they get stressed, don’t they, trying to get all the jobs done?

It’s a busy world, where everyone seems to be going faster and faster.

Can’t we just stop and have fun?

Sometimes parents need to stop and take care of themselves.

I like it when my Mum is relaxed and happy.

Parents need to take very good care of themselves so that they can take care of their children.

Well, my Mum says that children come first.

Parents need to put themselves first, even ahead of their children.

Why?

Because when parents are as healthy as possible, they can look after their children well.

So then we get happy parents.

Healthy parents = healthy children, but stressed, worn-out parents who don’t take care of themselves = unhappy children.

Then what happens?

Each unhappy child with an unhappy, stressed-out Mum and Dad becomes a naughty child.

Children need grown-ups to look after them, don’t they?

Yes, in all ways: physically, mentally and emotionally.

What does all that mean?

Grown-ups need to look after children’s bodies, their minds and their emotions, so that they’re healthy in all ways.

“Healthy” means eating vegetables and exercising, doesn’t it?

Yes, and taking care of thoughts and feelings.

We need grown-ups so much, don’t we?

Children will always need grown-ups for guidance and protection.

So we can all be healthy and safe.

In a world where there’s no such thing as naughty.

This piece is the seventh 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.

Check back here for the following two parts, which will be published in the coming weeks.

Read the previous story in the series, THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS NAUGHTY: Naughty grows 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 amygrace2@gmail.com.