Good Girl vs Good Boy!
I recently got asked if I use the term, “good girl” or “good boy” when referring to Wilder since I am doing gender creative parenting. This is an important term that I want to spend some time breaking down and talking about. You see, I don’t say “good boy” or “good girl” to any kid, no matter who they are. In fact, this term, is one of my most disliked phrases I hear used by adults on a regular basis and here is why.
First, do kids even know what you are saying “good girl” or “boy” about? I mean really, let’s think about it. If I’m working on a project or sitting and doing something and someone says, “good boy, Danny,” I’m not going to know what exactly I’m doing well. Is it the sitting? is it the task I’m working on? Is it because I put my clothes in the hamper this morning? Kids need us to break down and reward exactly what it is they are doing (pro tip – so do adults!). So, when I see Wilder using their spoon instead of eating with their fingers, I don’t say “Good boy/girl OR job!” I will tell Wilder exactly what is is that I like them doing, “Wilder! I see you doing a really good job scooping with your spoon! Scoop scoop scoop!” Or if they are sitting calmy for a diaper change, instead of saying “good job, Wilder,” I say things like, “thank you for laying down and not moving while I change your diaper.” I point out exactly what it is they are doing so that they don’t have to try to guess what it is. In my experience, this helps children build skills faster, but it also helps them learn direct communication. I want to praise my child in ways that go deeper than a shallow, “good girl” or “good job.”
The other piece that feels really important to point out about using the term “good girl” or “good boy,” or even “good job,” is that is tells a child that when we don’t say those words, they are bad. Or that in order to be “good” they need to accomplish some task that makes us happy, when kids are inherently good. I want Wilder to learn that we can do well or be good at certain things, but that being a “good person” doesn’t have anything to do with being good at something. Or doing well at a task.
I also want Wilder to know that being good at something isn’t all or nothing. For example, putting a puzzle together has many different steps. When we break down and positively reinforce the little steps that they are accomplishing, when they do encounter something harder or challenging, it’s not the entire puzzle that they are struggling with, but rather a small step in the bigger picture. I’m really good at finding edge pieces and putting together a border, but am not good at finding center pieces. If someone were to tell me, “good boy,” while putting together the outside, but then not when I struggled with the inside, I would internalize that as me being bad. Eventually I’d stop putting together the outside pieces due to fear of failing to put together the inside pieces. See how that works?
But also, it tells children that they are good when they do what we as adults want them to do. It says that you’re a good girl when you put on your shoes. Or that you’re a good boy when you get in line. Not, you’re a good person when you share you things. Or you’re a good human when you help others. We are teaching our children that to be good, you have to be and do what others want. I absolutely do not want this to be the message Wilder receives. I want Wilder to know that being “good” means being empathetic and kind. Instead I’d say, “thank you for putting on your shoes,” or “I really appreciate when you put on your shoes all by yourself!”
Our words are really powerful and as adults, we need to be conscious about how we use them to reinforce and reward our children. The words we use now, are the words they will live by as adults.
Danny (and Wilder)