I am not ashamed to say that I love Santa. The magic that Santa brings to the holiday season for kids is unmatched. I even did a research-based persuasive speech in college about the benefits of believing in Santa Claus for kids. As I’ve become a parent and a mental health specialist, I’ve become more and more aware of the big red mark across something that most of us grew up with…the naughty list.
Along with the joys that come with the holiday season and believing in Santa, comes the highly feared naughty list. Parents all over have used the naughty list to manipulate children into having “good behavior”. The naughty list is a widely used threat against kids. I’ve heard it in homes that I’ve worked in as well as childcare centers I’ve visited. “If you act like that you will be on the naughty list.” It can be a seemingly quick fix for behaviors. But the negative effects outweigh the positives with the naughty list and implying that the child is naughty or bad.
When we tell kids they are going to be on the naughty list, we are threatening them. When we threaten children, we cause negative feelings, feelings of guilt, fear, and disappointment. Not all children know how to express negative feelings, and this might in turn lead to bigger and longer melt downs, withdrawn behavior, or aggression, and ultimately can damage a positive relationship between kids and caregivers.
Telling a child they are bad or naughty can and will overtime make the child believe that they are bad and naughty. This lowers self-esteem and overall can cause issues with managing their emotions. When a child believes they are bad, they might act out with challenging behaviors or making “bad” choices even more, because there is nothing to lose if they are already labeled “bad” they might as well be “bad”.
Instead of using the naughty list around the holidays or telling kids they are being bad during the rest of the year, make the redirection more about the specific behavior. If your kid is hitting try making it about the action, “It isn’t okay to hit, hitting hurts, we use safe hands”. Maybe your kids are a little bit more moody or grumpy, validate their emotions, we all get grumpy sometimes, and then help them feel better with hugs or reading a book together. Also focusing on the positive behaviors and choices, instead of the negative, will encourage positive behaviors while decreasing challenging behaviors. An example of this would be saying “Wow you were really mad, but you used your words! That was a great and safe choice!”.
Take a moment to realize that as kids are extra excited around the holidays, parents and caregivers often feel extra stress, which in turns can lead to being quicker to being frustrated with kids. The more we recognize our own emotions and stress, then manage those feelings, the less we will take it out on our kids.
For the holiday season, try saying NO to the naughty list threats.
By Alice Boutz, LMSW Mental Health Specialist