Bad, bad, bad

I knew this would happen, and I knew it would happen once Peanut got to school. He now knows the word “bad.”

We avoided that word for the first four years of his life, because he doesn’t need it. There are few really “bad” things in this world, and those are so off-the-charts horrible that he doesn’t need to know about them. We’ll spare the discussions about terrorism, homicide, and even theft and greed until later. Most people are basically good, but some can make better choices. When we say it that way, everyone has a chance, you know? Someone at school who has a grumpy day and takes toys or hits needs to know there are better ways to be angry. But she’s not bad. Most cats expressing themselves with feces are frustrated and need understanding and training. They are not bad. Their actions are frustrating and disgusting and won’t be tolerated, but the cat, himself, is not bad. In our house, fruit rots; it’s not bad. We feel ill or crummy; not bad. I’m not saying that this approach is right; I’m just explaining why it was weird to hear my child use the word “bad.”

Just as I tried hard to teach P that I love him and I don’t like hitting, so he knew that the person and the action are not the same thing, we tried to teach him that some things were good choices and some were not good choices. We never needed the word “bad” and we liked it that way.

So when he came home last week and asked what “bad” meant, I said it can mean a lot of things; where did he hear it and I could tell him what the person meant. “Big bad wolf tried to get in some pig houses.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, I know that story, and I guess, in that case, they mean bad because the wolf ruins the pig houses and scares them and doesn’t listen to their words. So in that case, bad is kind of like ‘not being nice’.”

So, predictably, for the next few days, he tried out his new condemnation on a variety of subjects. The cat is bad, Mom is bad, Dad is bad, this macaroni is bad…I’m going out of my mind. Because I want to let him try it, and not call attention to it for all the reasons parents *know* not to call attention to behaviors they don’t like, but that word KILLS me. It’s like a 1950s black and white world where we judge people and count them out because of one poor choice.

Spouse and I don’t say “good boy” because it makes him seek praise for any action, laudable or otherwise. Labeling a child good makes them second guess their every move to see if someone else will tell them they are good, instead of finding their own sense of self worth and justice. And being a “good boy” or a “bad boy” implies a permanence. There are no all good or all bad children. There are people who need better parenting and time to learn and help finding better choices. Even those people don’t have “bad” parents. They have parents who don’t know better or who don’t try hard enough.

Anyway. I’m miffed about the “bad.” Other parents freak when their kid comes home spewing four-letter words and I’m thrown at just three.

15 thoughts on “Bad, bad, bad

  1. “Most people are basically good, but some can make better choices. When we say it that way, everyone has a chance, you know? ” = Brilliant. Your words are always so eloquently written.

  2. i prefer the statement “you are being a rotter” to “you are being bad”. there is no good and bad. but there is right and wrong. bad is a word that bugs me, too. it’s too religious, or something. ya know?

  3. I feel the same way about the word “hate”. I have been very careful not to use the word and have directed my daughter to choose a different word when this is the one that comes out of her mouth. I don’t think it’s necessary for kids to feel so strongly as to HATE something. It’s a thoughtless word, and is used when a person is feeling emotional and probably doesn’t mean it.

    I do agree about the word bad too. My husband has told my daughter that she’s being “bad” and I’ve quickly corrected him… to me it’s a word that can be used when something has “spoiled” or gone bad but not to describe a person.

  4. J I *love* “being a rotter.” It says being, as though you could change that any moment, and a rotter, aside from being delightfully British, is one that spoils things. makes all else nasty. So your behavior is mucking with everything around you. Love it.
    Becca, I completely agree with “hate.” I’m sure that’s the next one he’ll bring home from school because the bigger boy he idolizes screams that at anyone who won’t let him play. I abhor the sound of “hate” and I resent how quickly people jump to that idea. Can’t you dislike some things, and be irked by others and not hate everything?
    Thanks, Jen. Even though I’m a very quick-tempered and negative person, I do believe that we’re all basically good and can just sometimes make better choices. I really do.
    Kitch, thanks for not thinking I’m a giant dork for this post. It does seem really flipping silly that I make such a big deal out of language, but…well…it’s my business. Maybe “bad” and “hate” with your curry sauce would be infinitely more palatable.

  5. I think your reasoning here is totally right on (especially about the good/bad boy thing–you read my post about approval junkies…). It was inevitable that he would hear the word “bad,” and that he will play with it now that he knows it. I would also feel all nails-on-the-blackboardy about it, so I’m wishing for deep breaths and deaf ears for you for a while.

    Peanut is terribly bright, and will probably eventually ask why you guys don’t use the word “bad” at home, and you’ll have the opportunity to talk about your reasons, which will be a great learning moment for him.

    Also, I find it terribly endearing that the problem with the Big Bad Wolf was that he “doesn’t listen to [the pigs’] words.” :)

  6. I’m right there with you. I’ll never forget when my son came home with the word “hate” – a four letter word if I ever heard one! I was devastated. Suddenly he “hated” everything. It was like having a grumpy emo teen in a little four yr. old body. Thank goodness he outgrew it!

  7. Around here, we picked up “not acceptable” from Supernanny. “Okay, that’s not acceptable,” I would the kid sternly when she poured milk on the floor.

    Now, of course, she uses it on me. (She’s eleven.) “Ma,” she says, when I cuss at the terrible tailgater behind me, “that is not acceptable language.”

  8. I definitely get this. Raising two little girls, I was careful to never use the word “fat” in our house. I was devastated when my 3rd grader started using it. Damn girlfriends.

  9. Any time your kid comes home with something YOU decided wasn’t necessary for your house, it’s upsetting. Like Evan told us he needed to go tell the neighbors that Jesus loved them. I was ready to pull Evan out of the school right then. So I get it. I know some people may say “so what.” But you were teaching a certain value, even though you knew one day you would have to explain what “bad” is. It’s just stinks it wasn’t in your time table.

  10. Ah, people, it’s good to not feel totally mocked for strong feelings about words that just seem to have so much of society’s ills wrapped in them.
    Falling, that’s a good point that the learning moment is when he asks why we don’t use that word.
    Jane, I fear that day when he says hate.
    Delagar, I use “not okay” and can’t wait until he tells me my behavior is not okay. That’s just freaking awesome.
    Gibby, we avoid fat, too. Except when talking about how you need protein, fiber, fat, carbohydrates, and vitamins in every meal. I want fat to be a good thing. We have a cat who eats when he’s stressed, and has doubled his body weight, and we just had to talk to Peanut about how that makes the poor cat sore to be so heavy because his body isn’t made to hold all that weight. But we still haven’t said the word fat. We’ll work it in slowly, when we talk about how your body uses some energy and stores some. But I think “ugly” and “fat” do more to devastate smart, confident people that have bright futures than almost any other words I know.
    We also don’t say dumb or stupid. You know how P loves the “damn,” though, and he most assuredly got it from home.
    Fae, I’m trying so hard not to laugh because I’m absolutely right there with you. But the image of the door-to-door slays me.
    Ink, I know. I’m actually pretty proud it came this late in the game, but still. This was the one sphere of influence in which I actually had some control. And I need something in my totally out-of-control control-freak life to feel contained. Alas. And alack.

  11. Gosh, having kids is so difficult. We too use “not acceptable” when our daughter is behaving badly.

    She’s four and now uses that phrase on her two year old sister.

    Sounds like you’re doing a good job to me…

  12. Unacceptable, Unacceptable, Leroy Brown.
    Most unacceptable man in the whole damn town.
    More unacceptable than elderly King Kong.
    Less approachable than a dog who guards the place where people dispose of useful objects they should have freecycled but were too lazy to post on Craigslist.

    Cannot wait ’til P learns to say “Shut Up!”

    On a similar note, I learned recently that the word most hated (disliked?) by most Americans is “moist.” Just another adjective trying to do its job of describing things that have its properties. Why do the haters (dislikers?) have to hate (dislike?) on moist (damp)? Or bad (awful, terrible, dreadful, appalling, shocking, ghastly, horrific, dire, unpleasant, unacceptable, evil, wicked, corrupt, immoral, depraved, debauched, unscrupulous, ruthless, merciless, cruel, base, shameless, poor, inferior, deficient, flawed, faulty, defective, substandard, imperfect, shoddy, abysmal, naughty, disobedient, troublesome, wayward, mischievous, unmanageable, unruly, willful, rude, serious, severe, grave, critical, life-threatening, acute, regretful, sorry, penitent, remorseful, ashamed, apologetic, contrite, guilty, repentant, sad, unhealthy, damaging, injurious, ruinous, dangerous, prejudicial, harmful, adverse, difficult, unhappy, troubled, testing, unpleasant, distressing, harsh, austere, rotten, decayed, decaying, decomposing, putrid, moldy, sour, stale, rancid)? Or any other word for that matter?

    Why can’t things be bad? A casserole can be bad. We can definitely live in a 1950s black and white world where we judge casseroles and count them out because they suck. The same goes for Fox News. Some things are bad.

    An inconsiderate driver is a bad driver. A moist match that can’t start a fire is a bad match. Maybe it’s language laziness to call something bad rather than finding a more succinct synonym, but is it really all that bad of a practice? Probably only if you have some personal hatred for a particular word.

    Today’s reply was brought to you by the keys Shift and F7.

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