The Flip Side To Being Told Your Child Has ‘Good’ Behaviour


A few days ago I was travelling on a train from Scotland to London. I ended up having to move to another seat away from my daughter and husband, as another woman came to claim her reserved seat. A few hours into the journey another woman who’d been sitting opposite us, came up to me, and started gushing, ”I just wanted to tell you that you have the most adorable daughter. I hope she doesn’t feel embarrassed because I just can’t stop looking at her. She’s just so well behaved. In fact she is the most well-behaved child I’ve ever seen!”

I felt incredibly proud. Like all parents I get tired, I have grumpy days, and I can’t always be the parent I want to be. So it was really nice that someone recognised that I am doing a good job.

And it was also interesting that I noticed the flip side of the comment. We were only half-way through the journey.  I suddenly felt like we had a reputation to live up to! As the train became an hour late due to ‘hot tracks’ (I haven’t missed the classic British late train excuses!) my daughter did start to get bored and bounce around the carriage, and I began to notice how self-conscious I became.

I wanted to write this blog post for a few reasons. One simply to show just how amazing these Hand in Hand Parenting tools are. When we listen to our children’s feelings, it is reflected in their behaviour. This is the secret formula for getting comments like that by strangers!

The second reason is this. We as parents can often feel like we are being judged when we go out in public. Our fellow passengers want a few hours of quiet to read a book, or use their Ipad. Our society is adult-centric, and it can feel like it’s our job to keep our children behaving well in public, so that other adults can retain their sense of peace.

Our society focuses on parenting approaches that control behaviour. Time out, consequences, rewards, and punishments, are all parenting methods that focus on fixing our child’s behaviour. A lot of these methods come with the implicit method that our child is to ‘blame’ for their misbehaviour, and must be punished, fixed or taught a lesson.

This ‘blame’ culture is also implicit in how parents are judged for their parenting skills and their child’s behaviour. We feel bad when our children behave ‘badly’ when in actual fact it’s rarely our fault, but more to do with difficult and challenging life experiences that our child has or is experiencing. In reality whether we are in moments where are children are behaving well, or not so well we are all doing the absolute best we can as parents, figuring things out as much as we can with the information we have available to us.

When an adult comments on your child behaving ‘well,’ or behaving ‘badly,’ what that actually means is that your child feels good, or feels bad. Children naturally regulate their emotions, and their behaviour, by expressing feelings, but our cultural attitudes towards crying, or other expressions of emotion, make it doubly hard to parent. Our society expects good behaviour from our children, while often judging us when our children have the big meltdowns or wild play they need to feel better! It’s no wonder parenting is so challenging!

Children do need the chance to get giggly and run wild, to be ‘naughty’ in a controlled environment and to release all the feelings that cause their ‘off-track’ behaviour. We can do a lot of this work in our own homes, so that when our children go out into the world, they feel well-connected and their behaviour is more likely to stay on track.

Want to learn more? Check Out

Five Ways To Prevent Public Tantrums And Meltdowns 

The Real Reason Our Children Misbehave 

Why This Isn’t Another Article About How To Stop Tantrums

Diary of an imperfect mum
A Mum Track Mind

11 thoughts on “The Flip Side To Being Told Your Child Has ‘Good’ Behaviour

  1. This is so true Kate. I’m also delighted when people compliment me on the children’s good behaviour, even though I know it might be fleeting. One day you might get a compliment for how angelic your child is in public but the same child is well capable of being ‘badly’ behaved in different circumstances. We just have to take the compliments and criticism and “treat those two imposters just the same”.
    Speaking of ipads, I’m curious if you have anything to say in the book, or an earlier blog post, about parents relying on this kind of entertainment to keep their children quiet in public. I personally think it is a massive cop out. I hate to see toddlers cut off like that from their surroundings, and the parents able to get on with their meal or whatever as if the child is literally not there. I know it can be a lifesaver to hand over a phone or tablet but many parents don’t seem to bother with other forms of distraction or entertainment anymore, like books, crayons, games. I know I sound old fashioned!

    1. Exactly! Although I enjoyed the nice compliment, I was aware that I wouldn’t want to be judged on a bad day.
      I agree with you about Ipads, I don’t like parents using them at the slightest moment of boredom, as I think that is partly the reason kids get addicted to them. My daughter does have an ipad, and she watches TV, but if she is bored then I try to offer connection, and other ideas too. I started to write a mini e-book about screens but I never finished it, partly I think because I’m struggling to come to conclusions about the best way to deal with them. I tend to allow my daughter a lot of freedom so that she can learn to self-regulate, and then if I notice her zoning out because of boredom, I’ll sometimes set a limit, so that she can get through her feelings and do something else.

  2. Yes! I have written about this too. I live in a small area and find a label of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ sticks like candyfloss and like candyfloss, isn’t too sweet after a bit.

  3. Yes I really ‘get’ how you feel your child has been put on a pedestal with a comment like this and it’s so easy to fall off this!!! The labelling of ‘good’, ‘brave’ and ‘naughty’ make me v uncomfortable.

    Recently I took the twins for their jabs – twin 2 didn’t cry at all and was showered with compliments from the nurses; twin 1 screamed blue murder and got less effuse ‘feedback’ – I found their v difficult to take as her reaction is really a v natural one and one we should respect, acknowledge and empathise with. So strange to praise kids for ‘holding it together’ etc at this age!!!! We must definitely allow the Natural reactions to a ariyario to happen and not try to halt them, get them to suppress them or constantly try to distract them. Sorry for the essay!! X

  4. I already get told how ‘good’ my daughter is, even though she’s only coming up to 4 months old! There really does seem to be outside pressure for your child to be good and not ‘naughty’ and it starts from an early age. Thanks for linking up with us at #fortheloveofBLOG!

  5. Like a lot of expats, we travel with G a lot. She is typically an excellent traveler because she enjoys it! Typically. Not always.

    So we get a lot of sideways glances at the beginnings of plane trips, but then usually get compliments at the end and I do tend to feel smug. Not because of anything I’ve done, but because G has showed the judgmental people around her that she was wrong.

    I do feel the sting of disapproval when she doesn’t do well, either on the rare occasions when she isn’t a model passenger or when we’re out in public in everyday life.

    I do tend to feel like I’m judged more harshly here in CH than I was in the US, which makes it doubly difficult :-/

  6. oh I know those sideways glances at the beginning! A man once sat next to me and my daughter at the beginning of a flight trip. My daughter was being slightly whiney as she was tired, and I heard the man asking the air stewardess if he could change seats. Then he realised he’d have to pay for the privilage, and decided to stay where he was. Within 5 mins both he and my daughter were fast asleep and slept for the entire journey! It still makes me a bit mad how judgemental and intolerant people can be!

  7. I used to be that judgey person before kids — I remember conversations at parties with family, my mom or sister or cousin and I, all commenting, oh they are so well behaved, or oh great the wild kids are coming, can’t someone control their kids. And now I want to kick my own butt. Parents are judged left right and center and even with the tablets. We see other parents in fleeting moments and we have no idea what the rest of their life is like. Why do people feel the need to judge us, put labels on our kids and our parenting? I read a recent blog from one of our Swiss bloggers and a mom talked about the breastfeeding-formula “wars” and summed it up nicely when she said we want to think we are doing something right with our kids and so if someone does something differently, we see that as not right. I loved when people would compliment my girls’ behavior on planes and mostly I just felt a sigh of relief because of the weight I felt of being judged. No one wants to hear kids cry and scream and throw fits, it’s hard on the ears for strangers and hard on the heart for parents. But where are our expectations? Kids have struggles just like big people and they are still learning how to communicate them. If I could go back to my pre-kid self and offer up a bit of humility and compassion!

  8. I found this really interesting to read and agree that children need the chance to express all their emotions be they “good” or “bad” However I do not like the idea of labelling a child as one of these because we don’t keep these labels as adults but they can certainly have a profound affect on both parent and child whilst they have/are given this label and it causes a lot of stress… I hate public judgement!

    Thanks for linking to #ablogginggoodtime

  9. Well, we all share our space on the earth, the old and the young ones, the smokers and the non-smokers, people who like to quietly read their books and people who enjoy to talk on their phones with their speakers on.
    And then there are the children. They may be able to sit still and behave nicely for some time – until they aren’t.
    Even people who don’t HAVE children should remember that they USED TO BE children… At least that’s what I told myself when I got the occasional eye-roll or dirty look.

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