“I’m not bad…”
Ever want to shout out at a naughty child, “Stop it, you’re being BAD?” You are definitely not alone. Parenting, caregiving, teaching children requires lots of patience and skill especially when they are not complying.
Growing up, I knew a lot of kids who heard this from teachers, siblings, and well-meaning neighbors. These kids didn’t listen, were very hyperactive, and above all, mischievous. I didn’t like some of them. I was friends with some. Later, I would come to find out that kids aren’t bad, they just engage in behaviors that are either not expected, liked, or accepted for the situation.
Which is why when one of my daughter’s first words were, “bad! bad!” I cringed and as I was trying to tolerate the shame of having my daughter say this (and with conviction), I of course, yelled at my husband. You see, in her first year of life, my husband would constantly tell our chihuahua, Millie that she was “bad! bad!” when she would bark at strangers, family members, the baby, nothing, or a knock on tv (she’s just protective!). My family would laugh at me when I would say, “Millie’s not bad, she just makes poor choices.” Yes, these are the conversations in the home of a therapist. My point was that Millie was responding to her internal alarm, her “flight and fight” response telling her to protect us and the home. And while she has a lot to learn about life and real and perceived danger, we as her parents need to train her to do better, instead of making her feel as though she’s bad. Every time I hear someone say “bad person” it’s like nails on a chalkboard for me. Mainly because I know how much people suffer when they believe it about themselves.
In my work, the “I’m a bad person” core belief comes up quite frequently. A lot of people believe they are inherently BAD. When we examine this belief and its history on their life, we find that the message (or “seed” as I like to refer to it as), “You’re bad” was planted back in childhood. It might have been an innocent, non-ill intentioned experience, and it kept being reinforced through time and other experiences. I tell my clients that these reinforced experiences are like oxygen, water and sunlight… all the things that a core belief and “tree” needs to grow and thrive. Then people start to believe the message and can develop assumptions about themselves and act accordingly. Two extremes can be: 1) continue to act that belief out, ex: “Since I’m bad and everyone knows it, I will continue to do bad things.” and/or ; 2) do everything possible to combat this belief or “inherent trait”, ex: “I have to go above and beyond to do nice things so that no one catches on and sees that I’m actually really a bad person.” Such behaviors can cause people to suffer and ultimately, behave in ways that are opposite to their values or goals.
Now that my daughter is 3.5 years old, I see her personality flourishing, how she developmentally appropriately pushes boundaries (and bedtime, and more snacks, or juice after brushing teeth, or stalling to clean up toys and on and on), and asserts her independence (no, I do it!), and how she is also starting to hold on to certain beliefs about herself and even others, like Millie = bad. It won’t be before long that an experience plants a seed about how her behavior is a direct reflection of something or someone she inherently is, even though it really isn’t.
And so this post is for her, for me, for you and your children. Let this image be a reminder that kids aren’t bad, they’re just:
Hungry. Tired. Bored. Overly Stimulated. Super excited. Frustrated. Delirious. Loopy. Sad. Having bad memories (trauma reactions look a lot like hyperactivity in kids – more on this in a later post). Legitimately not listening to you or the directions.
Sure it frustrates the hell out of us parents or caregivers (or aunts, teachers, sitters, cousins, grandparents), mainly because we’re:
Hungry. Tired. Bored. Overly Stimulated. Super excited. Frustrated. Delirious. Loopy. Sad. Having bad memories (trauma reactions look a lot like irritability in adults – more on this in a later post). Legitimately not listening to them or the directions they have for us.
And that doesn’t make us bad either.
Hey, parenting, teaching, caregiving – it’s all hard. Every day is a whole new ballgame. Be kind to yourself and those kiddos.
Stay tuned for the next post focusing on what you can do to help with some of these behaviors.
If you feel triggered by this article and are in need of some immediate resources, I urge you to contact:
- 911 or go to your nearest ER if you feel you a danger to yourself or others
- 211 – in LA County it’s the social service directory for grief groups, therapy resources, housing, and more. It’s also online, google, “211”
- LA County Access hotline for a psychiatric evaluation wherever you are located. The ACCESS/HOTLINE Phone number is : 1-800-854-7771. ACCESS operates 24 hours/day, 7 days/week as the entry point for mental health services in Los Angeles County.
- Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to inquire about an appointment with me in the Long Beach area. I can also help connect you to other therapists if you live elsewhere.
- If you would like to access your insurance mental health benefits, there should be a Member Phone number on the back of your insurance card. Ask them for their list of approved therapists. They can also email it to you, making it easy to cross reference the list on www.psychologytoday.com where you can check their profiles out.
Thank you for reading. Follow me on Instagram under @mendingrootstherapy to get updates about new articles, quotes and other musings on mental health.