Tips &

Tips &

Is a child's behaviour ever ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

June 2022
Janthea Brigden
More Tips & Tales

I was delighted recently to read a story in The Independent about the headteacher of Loughborough Amherst School adopting a policy to ban teachers from using unhelpful labels, such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, to describe children’s behaviour.

Instead, it has been suggested that they replace the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ with other less subjective terms such as ‘skilful’ and ‘unskillful’, in order to avoid making children feel guilty and become defensive. 

At Nipperbout, we have been training our staff to avoid labelling children, or their behaviour, since the early 90’s and we have all the evidence needed to prove it really works in terms of supporting behaviour.

Why shouldn’t we use words such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ when talking about a child's actions? 

‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are subjective

Telling a child their behaviour is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ gives no information other than personal opinion, which often changes depending on the mood we are in. Making a cake might be perfectly acceptable when I have plenty of time, however five minutes before guests are due for dinner is less appealing!  The actions I take to make the cake are exactly the same, in both scenarios, neither good nor bad. However, one could be labelled as a ’good’ idea, and the other as a ‘bad’ idea, depending on the day, time or other external factors (such as guests arriving). 

If you label a child, or their behaviour, as ‘bad’ they can end up internalising this label and believe that they are ‘a bad person’. This may lead to them becoming withdrawn or defensive, instead of helping them to understand the effect of the behaviour (the lack of time and the guests about to arrive) and what changes could be made (wait until the guests have left or schedule baking for tomorrow!)  

Whether behaviour is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ also changes depending on who’s observing the behaviour and the environment we are in.  For example, a child running around in the park shouting at friends and screaming in delight would rarely be considered ‘bad’ behaviour, but in a supermarket, it might. This can be confusing for children, especially if they are very young. 

Provide children with clearer information 

If we want to build self-esteem in our young people, then providing clear information is far more helpful to promote change, or continuation, of a behaviour. 

Instead of reactively giving behaviour a label, we train our Purple People to take the time to break it down and describe what they are seeing and hearing. Simply stating facts, e.g “You are running around in a busy supermarket”, removes the subjectivity, and therefore the emotional reaction, to describing the behaviour. It also helps you to be able to consider whether your own reactions (or triggers) might be part of the problem. For example, the supermarket might be almost empty, so being concerned about them running around could be your own anxiety, rather than anyone else’s.

Once you’ve stated the facts, you can then go on to talk about the effect those actions are having, e.g “When you are running, you are running into the path of other shoppers and their trolleys, and I am worried you’re going to be hurt”

And finally, you can end with how you would like the behaviour to change e.g: “I would like you to walk next to me whilst we’re in the supermarket”. 

The E2C2 technique

In the business world, the method I just described is used in management training and it’s called ‘E2C2’. 

It works like this: 

Evidence: Describe the facts of what the person has done, whether it is positive or negative. 

E.g “You borrowed your sister’s favourite book without asking her.”

Effect: Describe the effect that this action, or lack of action, has had. 

E.g “This meant that it wasn’t there when she wanted to read it last night and she became upset.” 

Change: Explain how you would like the behaviour to change in the future 

E.g “Remember to ask your sister before you borrow her book next time.”

Continue: Explain what behaviour you would like to see continue

E.g “It’s great to see you reading so much! Carry on finding different books you enjoy reading. 

By describing behaviour and actions and asking for change or continuation, children will know what needs to change and how to do that. More importantly, understanding how feelings affect our behaviour helps us to manage them and be more empathetic.

It is astounding that techniques used for management training haven’t filtered down to schools before now. Business leaders know that they get the best out of staff by inclusion, validation, respect and support. This is proved to work better even than a monetary incentive, which is why bribes rarely work with children either!

Children are small humans learning to be adults - let’s make it a smoother, happier journey!