“But he’s a good boy”, I overheard a parent say. Something about this bothered me, and it stuck with me all day.
I finally figured out why this statement was causing such a problem for me. It wasn’t just that being a “good boy” was being used to excuse rude behaviour. It was a deeper issue than that: If this was a good boy, then what would a bad boy be?
The child I’d witnessed had certainly been engaging in bad behaviour. And I would agree that this doesn’t make a child a bad person. “Bad” behaviour is simply someone’s best attempt to meet their needs. If someone could figure out a better way to meet their needs, they would. The child who steals a toy does so because they don’t believe they will get to play with it if they “ask nicely” for it. Almost every kid I know who has been caught stealing knows it’s wrong. It’s just that they couldn’t figure out a better option.
The reason why calling a child “good” is so problematic for me is that I don’t believe that we can categorize people into good and bad. There is good in everyone. That’s what Restitution is all about. Instead of coercing a child into “being good”, we understand that good already exists inside of every child, and we just need to provide the opportunity for reflection and self-evaluation so that kids can figure out a better way to meet their needs. As Shel Silverstein so eloquently put it – the key is in helping children “to listen to the voice that speaks inside”.
In your interactions with others today, think about whether you are trying to coerce someone into engaging in a specific behaviour, or are you trying to help people to reflect and figure things out a better way for themselves?