Why Labelling Children Naughty Isn’t Helpful

labelling children naughty

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One thing I’ve noticed since the twigs started school, is that C in particular has been coming home and saying things like ‘so-and-so’s really naughty’ or ‘he’s a naughty boy.’ In other words, labelling other children as naughty. Not in a nasty way, more in just a factual way really. It seems to be something lots of the other children do and they all talk about. But I just have a bit of a problem with labelling children naughty in this way.

Where does labelling children naughty come from?

I don’t think for a second that this comes from the adults at school. Well not deliberately anyway. I can’t imagine any teacher or TA describing a child as naughty these days, although I’m sure it used to happen.

The husband told me there was one teacher at his primary school who used to have a list on the wall of children she liked and children she didn’t like!! Isn’t that crazy?! Definitely can’t imagine that these days – Jesus you’d be struck off immediately!! (By the way, I’ll leave it to you to speculate which side of the list he was on!)

Behaviour charts at school probably aren’t helpful

Aaanyway, although I don’t think it would come directly from teachers, I do think those behaviour charts in classrooms probably don’t really help. You know the ones where they have something like a sunshine and the kids’ names move up to a rainbow if they do something good? Or down to a cloud if they do something not so good? Or it may be one with traffic lights or whatever.

Since seeing this school malarkey from the other side – ie a parent’s perspective rather than a teacher’s – I definitely view some things quite differently.

As a teacher, I can see that behaviour displays are really useful, maybe even essential. They’re a means of keeping some control in the classroom. But as a parent, they seem rather… public.

The rest of the class gets to see who’s where. If a child had just made a one-off error in judgement for example, they could find it pretty mortifying. And for those who are on the cloud or whatever it may be all the time, it’s very obvious to all the other children. I’m sure they would notice anyway if a kid found it particularly hard to follow the rules, but having something on display definitely makes it more apparent.

Label the behaviour not the child

I just have a real issue with the whole thing of labelling children as naughty. Every bit of parenting guidance I’ve read would say that you label the behaviour not the child. So if your kid is being a little bellend, as we all know they are from time to time, you describe what they’re doing as being naughty, rather than them themselves.

This article describes the distinction really well (and it’s quite funny too!) The line which stood out the most to me was: ‘Call a child naughty and all you’re doing is creating a naughty child.’

labelling children naughty

There may be a reason for their behaviour

Also, you don’t know anything about that child. They may have a really difficult, unsettled home life which causes them to act out at school. They may have overbearing, super strict parents so school is like a bit of freedom for them. Maybe they get no attention at home so playing up is their way of getting some attention, even if it’s negative. They could be a young carer, having to take on way more responsibility than a child of their age usually would. Maybe they have a condition, diagnosed or not, like ADHD or autism.

Or maybe they are just a bit of a pickle and like to mess about!

Whatever the reason, if there even is one, I can’t see how being labelled naughty could help that child in any way, even if they’re not aware of it.

But how do we stop children labelling other children naughty in this way? I’d love any advice on the best sorts of things to say. I’ve said to C that some children find it harder than others to follow the rules. It doesn’t mean they’re horrible or anything and you should try to help them by showing them a really good example and being kind to them. I’m not sure whether it’s made much of a difference though!

Any tips – send them my way! Thanks for reading!

Til next time,

Hannah xx

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  1. My son was labelled naughty and a bully in Year 1. This deeply affected him and lead him to be diagnosed with depression at the age of 7. He has since been diagnosed Adhd and Asd. The labelling came from teachers, pupils and their parents. Anti bullying assemblies for primary age children are undertaken which have scared my daughter. I think the issue is that society doesn’t allow children to be children anymore and allow them to make mistakes without judgement.

    1. Oh my gosh I’m so sorry you and your son had to go through that – that’s so awful! There definitely needs to be a lot more tolerance and understanding. I’m shocked it came from teachers and other parents as well as kids! Yes you probably have a point there πŸ™ Thank you for commenting xx

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