Bad People or Bad Choices? | Parenting Tips

This beautiful baby is my nephew. If you think he’s cute, you should see his uncle. This one time we were getting ready to leave from his swimming class, and were still in the locker room. There were some men nearby who were talking about North Korea and its dictator, Kim-Jong Un. My nephew immediately asked his dad, “Daddy, is he the man who made lots of bad choices?”

Everybody  in the locker room heard him, and couldn’t help but laugh and smile. I myself thought it was amazing how he called the eccentric ruler’s choices bad but not the man himself. This wasn’t a midnight miracle though – but the result of his parents’ conscious focus on habits and choices on being good or bad, and not the people themselves.
As parents, educators and caregivers, we all want what is best for children, and we try to help them make the best choices. Sometimes during this journey we are not in sync with the child’s feelings and behaviour, and we slip. For example, when the child is throwing a tantrum at the mall, hits somebody at school, or is simply making a lot of noise, we act by telling the child how he/she is being a “bad child”.

I don’t think any parent or teacher thinks that their child is a bad child, and I also don’t think they slip on purpose. It can get very difficult to deal with children’s tantrums. However by repeating this to them continuously we affect the child’s self-esteem.

A famous social-psychologist called Charles Cooley created the concept of looking glass self in 1902 to understand similar phenomena in society. He concluded that a person’s self grows out of society’s interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others.


When the “bad” behavior or choice is directly addressed, it takes away from parents accidentally slipping and saying that the child is “bad” when the focus needs to be more on the actual behavior. For example, when a child hits somebody at school, tell them how “hitting is bad” instead of the child himself being bad, it tells the child about the negative consequences of his/her actions but would not inflict as much damage on his/her self-esteem.

I understand that it takes a great deal of effort to change our habit. Hopefully this post will help you depart from the good boy/girl – bad boy/girl cycle, and help your child to have a healthy sense of self, even if he or she makes a poor choice in life.

– Kartik

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