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.