There are lots of words which have negative connotations for people. This particular word seems to generate enormous offence from my son if it is ever directed at him. That word is ‘Naughty’.
For my son that is the worst thing in the world to be called. He hates it. To have it applied to him sends him into a horrible negative spiral of shame. It is particularly evident when the word is used to apply to something he has done when he’s trying to be helpful. He has seen grown-ups doing it, so he’ll do it too, he’s helping. In his mind he’s doing the right thing and there’s no way he should face any negative comments for his actions.
In reality things are different. Adults do things all the time that simply aren’t safe for youngsters to do, or can cause harm to others if not done properly. That’s the crux of it, when he does something dangerous that might cause harm to himself or others it could be considered naughty. He’s doing it on purpose, sometimes even after being told not to, so he must be doing it to be deliberately defiant or to harm others. Right?
No. Not at all.
My son is helpful. That’s the best way to describe him. He’s helpful to the point of self-destruction. You can tell him until you’re blue in the face not to do something, but he continues on, helping, doing dangerous things, because he wants to feel needed, to feel useful, and ultimately to feel in control.
When he defies us, and continues on his dangerous path we have to actively resist saying those triggering words “You’re naughty! Stop and listen!”. To do so often results in him responding violently, not necessarily directed at us, but at something or himself. He’ll also run away and hide. It’s the worst thing for him, to be called naughty when he’s trying to be good.
And he does try. He tries so hard. But he doesn’t get it right all the time.
When we remind him, sometimes quite forcefully, that he isn’t listening to us, he usually does stop and listen. It isn’t always guaranteed, but what is is that if you use the ‘n’ word he stops hearing anything after it. His brain shuts down and goes into survival mode. He flees, he hides, he self-harms, he feels ashamed of himself, he feels angry. He hates making mistakes.
My son is not a naughty child. He’s a nice boy, who tries his best to be good. Sometimes he gets things wrong and the things he does are naughty, but he is not.
I see him thinking of others all the time, I see his empathy towards people, how caring he is. I also see his pain when he gets it wrong, when he starts thinking of himself as a bad person. He is anything but. There is such kindness in his soul, but in his fractious moments, the times he simply will not stop and listen it can be difficult to see.
I try to not direct the ‘n’ word at my son any more, it damages his self-esteem. We find other ways to let him know he shouldn’t have done something, that he has made a mistake. He’s learning that everyone can makes mistakes, and that’s okay. It’s how we learn, children especially. No one is perfect.