Why “Be Good” Isn’t Good Advice to Children

BE-GOOD Image for post

  • “I need you to be good in the grocery store.”
  • “Be good for the babysitter, okay?”
  • “Why can’t you just be good today?”

Parents in every U.S. city tell, ask, and bribe children to “be good” every single day. But does it work? For a few kids, this simple phrase might produce positive outcomes, but for the majority of children, the term “be good” doesn’t help them work towards “good” behavior.

Parents, have you told your child to “be good” and within minutes found yourself disappointed or surprised about your child’s “ungood” behavior. Maybe the last time this happened, your child was walking into a cousin’s birthday party. Possibly it was while you were shopping . It might have been in the morning as your child was headed to school. But later you learned that your child misbehaved a little or a lot. Do you often wonder why your child can’t follow simple instructions such as “be good?” If so, I think I can offer some understanding.

There are two main reasons why saying “be good” to children doesn’t produce good behavior. Read on to learn why and what you can do instead to get better results and teach your child important life skills.

#1 Reason Why “Be Good” Doesn’t Help Kids

The first reason why “be good” doesn’t work is one that’s relevant no matter what discipline philosophy you choose. The main problem with “be good” is a lack of effective communication. “Be good” is abstract and too general for kids to truly understand. It’s almost like saying, “Okay, read my mind and act the way I’d like you to act.” Many parents might argue that kids know what the parent means when the parents states, “be good.” I disagree.

Here’s where I borrow my favorite quote from brain researcher John Medina, author of the books, Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Babies  – “what is obvious to you is obvious to you.” Your child can not read your mind. Most likely your child does want to be good. However, you aren’t offering your child usable information when you give the vague directions, “be good.”

#2 Reason Why “Be Good” Doesn’t Help Kids

The second reason why “be good” doesn’t work is one that relates to Positive Discipline parenting and a few other non-traditional parenting philosophies. When parents want kids to “be good,” the basic message conveyed is “don’t screw up” or “get it right.” Besides being a vague message, this message is also unrealistic. Are you truly asking your child, who has limited social and emotional skills, to know what to do all day long? It’s not possible. That’s why your kids need you – to help them learn!

Most kids aren’t capable of being good for extended periods of time. That’s why kids require lots of supervision and tons of teaching, healthy modeling and opportunities to practice skills. Kids are going to make lots of mistakes while learning about the world and the culture in which they’re being raised. Your child will find himself (or herself) in plenty of situations where he doesn’t know what to do – because he doesn’t have the skills or the life experience to know what to do. Your child doesn’t have the life experience that you have and is still figuring out how the world works. (Hey I’m almost half a century old and I’m positive that I’m still figuring out -on many levels- how the world works.)

I still make mistakes and at times blurt out comments that don’t sound super eloquent or ultra-friendly. Although I do my best everyday, I’m not capable of being good all the time. (Thank goodness I’ve learned the 3 R’s of Recovery from mistakes.)

What to Say to Kids Instead of “Be Good”

So what can parents say to kids that might be more helpful than “be good?” Read my follow-up article, 5 Alternatives to Saying “Be Good” to Kids to learn some new strategies to try instead of saying “be good.”

Kelly Pfeiffer

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