When I was directing a weekday preschool, I had several “friends” who would visit my office on a semi-regular basis. Typically, they would either sit at the little table and chair next to my desk or I would sit them on my lap and we’d have a discussion on “good and bad choices”. Words like “friends” (rather than children or boys or girls) and “good and bad choices” were standard preschool terminology. I’d even use the same words at home with my girls.
Not every time, but fairly often when I was having a discussion with my “friend” in the office and we talked about these choices, they, independently, would make the conclusion that they were a “bad” boy or girl. That because they weren’t making good choices they were bad. Yikes. No three year old should go around telling people they are bad. The label of “bad” is something that can stick with them a lot longer than the consequences of their choices.
You may have heard of Erik Erikson and his eight stage theory of development. Erikson believed that these stages had direct impact on shaping one’s identity. When looking at ages 3 to 6, he refers to this stage as Initiative vs. Guilt. This stage has a lot to do with establishing purpose in one’s identity. Children will initiate role play and try new things, they want to feel successful. However, this stage can easily affect their competence and make them feel inadequate (i.e guilt). Both stages, before and after this stage, deal with similar effects (toddler years: autonomy vs. shame & doubt, elementary years: industry vs. inferiority). Young children, even up to age 12 want to feel successful and they want to please. When we label them whether that be bully, bad, or even praise them too high, we are doing them a disservice. (You can read more about these learning theories here.)
All that to say, one day I decided I wasn’t going to use “good and bad” anymore. I switched my verbage to “right” and “wrong”. “Good” and “bad” give the implication that the behavior is directly related to the quality of person that you are. Children, are still testing boundaries and understanding their morality. The last thing they need to think is that because they made a mistake they are bad or because they made good choices all day they are good. In reality, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and we are teaching them that works is of more importance than grace. Again, probably not the foundation we are looking to lay.
Right and wrong fall more in line, I believe, with the paths we talk about in the Bible. Right choices honor God, wrong choices disobey Him. You don’t hear people say, “oh they are a right person”, like you would a “good person”. This idea focuses on the behavior and less on the morality of the child.
I share this change of my “words” for a couple of reasons. The first reason, is that children don’t need labels, not bully, not bad and not even princess. Let them find their own identity and not have them live up to the label that’s been given to them. The second reason, is that it’s all about the faith foundation, which choice of words will help them understand the grace of Jesus Christ best and obedience to God.
Personally, I want my girls to grow up honoring God and obeying His Word. I want their moral compass to be set on Him and not on man’s. One day I asked Hope if mommy loved her when she made a wrong choice. She said no. My heart sank a little. So, I held her and corrected her gently, “No, Hope, mommy loves you all the time, whether you make a right choice or a wrong choice. Mommy loves you no matter what.” I followed that statement up with telling her God loves her even more than mommy and daddy ever could.
Our children must know first and foremost that they are loved by us, as parents or caregivers, and their Heavenly Father. Second, we must choose our words wisely, to keep pointing them toward Christ and help them to understand this great gift of grace that doesn’t require works or “good” & “bad” labels. As Ephesians 2:8-9, says “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing;it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Thanks for letting me share,