These are the standard phrases we use to praise or admonish the twins. In doing so, I’m sure we’re no different from millions of parents around the world.
I’ve read in parenting books that rather than saying “bad girl,” one should say “that’s a bad thing to do” to more accurately convey that it is the action that’s bad, not the person. Obviously, the same does not hold true for the “good girl” situations.
Earlier, when I studied Psychology, I read about unconditional love, which, as I understand and recall it, is simply reassuring a child that no matter what you do and how angry I might be, I will always love you. The child should never have to fear or be insecure on that account.
Both things, slightly confusingly related and even slightly contradictory as they are, make sense to me. I have to admit that I don’t always – or even often – practise the former; though I wish I could, it’s just too cumbersome a statement in the heat of the moment. I believe (think) that, though I say “no” and “don’t” about a million times a day, I don’t say “bad girl” all that often and I do say “good girl” just as often or more.
I like to think too, that they somehow know when I scold them, that I’m only scolding them for that particular action and that there’s no threat to my overall affection for them, as well as no sweeping judgement on their general nature. My basis for this assumption is the belief that they are still arriving at an understanding of words based on context and non-verbal communication. Therefore, “bad girl” = “doing that is bad” is not too much of an intuitive leap for them, while it (“bad girl”) is quite distinct from “I don’t love you” or “I won’t love you if you do that”. Likewise, I believe that “mama scolds me but still loves me” is something they understand without the use of those exact words.
But, I’m no child psychologist; I could be wrong.
What shocked me recently, though, was two similar but separate incidents of people asking my daughters, “Are you a good girl or a bad girl?”
One enquirer was herself a child, maybe 6 years old. The other was an unrelated child-minder.
Wow! Do people normally go around making kids make these value judgements about themselves? Obviously the child had been exposed to this question either first- or second-hand, she could hardly have thought up that line of questioning herself, unaided. What’s worse, she proceeded to label Mrini “bad girl” (and Tara “good girl”) just because Mrini wouldn’t go to her (and Tara did). She was just a child, and somebody else’s at that, so I didn’t say anything, but in my mind, that is no kind of basis for praising or admonishing a child. (As it happened, Mrini didn’t care, she smiled and clung to me.)
The child-minder said her ward, when so questioned, always answered, “Bad girl.” She – and the child’s mother – found this amusing. I think it’s terrible! From the tender age of 18 months, that child has an image of herself that is negative, and even if she doesn’t understand the implications of those words yet, she soon will. And meanwhile, her caregivers aren’t even trying to fix that verbal self-perception! I’m sure they love her and hug her and praise her as well, but the fact remains that her predominanat recollection is of the words “bad girl” – and they find this funny!
As of now, the twins don’t even properly respond to the question, “What is your name?” (they both say something approximating Mrini), so naturally they have no answer to the good girl, bad girl question yet. When they do, I hope that in actions, words, and inner belief, the answer will be good.