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Give Kids a Break! Don't Make Them Choose Between Naughty or Nice

12/11/2015 05:12pm ET | Updated December 11, 2016
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Do you think we over do it when we challenge or even threaten our kids to be bad or good or naughty or nice for Santa?

Santa's a good guy. We give him cookies and milk and leave him notes. Why do we make him out to be such a tough guy?

Since when do threats and intimidation and pressure turn out caring, empathic kids anyway? Nice, kind, pleasant, and polite kids generally don't respond well to scare tactics. When we give warnings about being naughty or nice aren't we kind of bullying? Hardly what we intend.

So let's turn the emotional temperature down during the holidays and lessen kid stress by helping them think about others and share in their natural goodness instead. We can do it by setting the example by being good listeners, giving hugs every day, and praising the empathic stuff that we observe them do and hear them say. If it 'tis the season to be jolly, then let's be that!!

What's Naughty Anyway?

The synonyms for naughty are pretty treacherous: ill-disciplined, wretched, badly behaved, disobedient, mischievous, bad, wicked, impish!! Can a five-year-old really be characterized that way?

Aren't they allowed to make some mistakes that they can learn from? Aren't they allowed to feel some anger and even have an outburst? Can't they disagree with you and charge out of the room mad? Since when do we want them to be perfect or not have minds of their own?

Your typical three-year-old is going to be impulsive, have trouble being organized, maybe even hit or have a tantrum? Is he always then to be characterized as a naughty scoundrel. Heck, no! He's just three!!

But then what about the temperamental teenager who storms out of the kitchen feeling life is unfair and doesn't put his dishes in the dishwasher. Oh, no! Is he a scoundrel? A tyrant? Doesn't deserve a new special gift on a holiday?

Maybe something happened at school to put him in a bad mood? Maybe his girlfriend broke up with him or he failed a test he thought he studied hard for? Is he naughty or struggling?

To my way of thinking he just needs to be understood and supported. What do you think?

The Problem with "Naughty OR Nice" is the word, "Or"

When we tell kids or sing songs about being naughty or nice we give kids the impression that they are either-or when it's important for them to learn and understand that we are all a mixture of traits. When children understand that others have positive and negative qualities and that we tolerate the negative because we enjoy the positive, they learn to get along with others and are more tolerant and able to make friends and feel compassion for others.

That's certainly in the holiday spirit!

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with a new book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, a great holiday gift found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius and wherever books are found.