Reasons to Stop Telling Your Child to "Be Good"

Telling your child to "be good" is an unclear way of asking them to behave appropriately for the occasion. Here's why you should stop.
Reasons to Stop Telling Your Child to "Be Good"

Last update: 23 April, 2022

“Be good” is one of the phrases that parents of young children repeat most often, as many of them use it with their children in different circumstances. Always with the intention of getting them to act appropriately for the occasion.

Both mothers and fathers want the best for their children. Also, we expect them to be on their best behavior no matter where they find themselves. But do we really take their age into account when we generate these expectations regarding their conduct ?

In addition to this, we must take into account that for children, understanding this expression can be a bit complex. It applies to so many contexts that the advice summarized in these two words isn’t clear enough. If you want to know how to communicate better with your child and express what you expect in terms of their behavior, we invite you to read this article.

A mother holding up a finger and scolding a her toddler son.

“Be good”, an unclear instruction

In many cases, we address our children with the classic “be good” or “behave yourself”. We even tend to add some conditions that might imply a kind of punishment or reward such as “if you don’t behave yourself, you won’t watch TV”, or “if you behave yourself, I’ll give you a candy”.

Either way, it can be difficult for a child to distinguish those limits or indications that we’re trying to draw . Knowing right from wrong becomes blurred when each situation warrants a specific behavior . That is, attending a children’s party is not the same as attending a doctor’s appointment, nor is a child’s behavior at home and the same as at school.

So, before saying “be good” we must keep in mind that each event requires a particular attitude. But there’s another factor: you need to be aware of the stage of life the child is in . The truth is, many times, what for us is bad behavior, for them is the only form of expressing what they feel .

A little girl sitting on a couch looking guilty as her mother looks at her with her hands on her hips.

What to do instead of asking your child to be good

First of all, the best thing to do would be to stop asking your child to be good and replace that typical phrase with a specific explanation . This, according to what’s warranted for each occasion.

In other words, you should be clearer and more explanatory about the scenario in which your child is going to find themself, the reason why thry’ll be there, and what they need to do or not do in that context.

Secondly, you can give your child a series of suggestions regarding what would be better to do in certain situations . This will speed up communication, strengthen your bond, and the relationship with your child will become more transparent and positive.

Lastly, remember to adopt a calm and clear tone of voice  when expressing all of this . This way, your child will feel more secure and confident in what you’re saying. The phrase “be good” often has a threatening connotation, which isn’t beneficial under any circumstances.

How to talk to your child

Here are a couple of examples of what you can say to your child when you want them to behave in a certain way:

  • “We’re going to visit your aunt. I need you to be careful what decorations you try to touch. Keep in mind that this is very important to her and it’s best not to break anything. So, I’ll bring you some notebooks and some crayons to draw with if you’re bored.”
  • “Now I’m going to take you to school. Remember to pay attention to what the teacher says and, to keep from interrupting her, it’s best to wait until playtime to talk to your friends.”

As you can see, these are the kinds of conversations you can engage in with your child to show them your expectations and guide them in their social development. Avoid just saying “be good” and give your child concise and simple tools .

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  • Farkas, C. (2014). Gestos que hablan: Aprendiendo a comunicarse con nuestros niños. Ediciones UC.
  • Vila Mendiburu, I. (2000). Enseñar a convivir, enseñar a comunicarse. Textos de Didáctica de la Lengua y la Literatura.

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