This Is What To Train Them In

It’s easy to forget it when you see them hitting a sibling. Or when you catch them in a lie. When you hear them say something mean. When the call comes in from school, or worse, the police station.

It’s easy to forget that our kids are good. That they have good morals. A good heart. That they are still that same innocent and pure little thing we brought home from the hospital. It’s easy to forget because we’re so worried, so worried that our sweet innocent and pure thing will end up like most of the people we meet in life–which is to say not so innocent and pure.

But Dr. Becky (who has a great book whose title reminds us that our kids are Good Inside) writes that we don’t have to train our kids to be good and kind. Instead, she writes, “we have to help them manage some of the barriers to kindness that can look on the surface, like harsh behavior but that, in reality, emerge to protect a child.” She’s talking about things like shame–which are usually behind the lies or the cheating or the refusal to apologize. She’s also talking about simple stuff–our kids want to do well, but they’re tired. They’re scared. They’re overwhelmed. They’re having trouble regulating their emotions.

If we start from the assumption that our kids are good inside–and always have been and always will be–then our job as parents shifts. Instead of lecturing them on what the right thing is, instead of hectoring them, instead of criticizing them to the point of making them doubt themselves, our job is to get rid of the obstacles to that goodness. Our job is to teach them to deal with their frustrations, to regulate their emotions, to process shame or fear so that these things don’t get in the way of doing what they already know is right. So nothing prevents them from being as good and kind and wonderful as we know, deep down, they already are.

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