By Stephanie Yopp-Robinson December 29, 2023
I’ve decided to do this series on respectful parenting & upbringing because I care deeply about this subject. The treatment of children on this planet has been one of general…let’s just say: unawareness. Overall, people are not intentionally guiding children into adulthood with malice (or the intention or desire to cause harm). Instead, we are oftentimes repeating patterns that didn’t actually serve us to begin with, because we either 1. Aren’t aware of the pattern or 2. Because we have no clue how to break from them and do something new…something healthier for all the beings who will come after us. Or, both.
This series will be from my perspective, through what I have learned as a mother, as a person who has done extensive personal growth, shadow work and self re-parenting. AND, as a witness to how we treat children throughout their upbringing. I’ll inform you now that I will be speaking directly and not sugar-coating what I know to be true on the subjects I choose to share. You may be ruffled in reading my words. The invitation is to breathe through any discomfort and to allow the energy to rise and to move--as you are willing. I am not an expert on these subjects, and my promise here is that I won’t pretend to be. I simply care. Since there are many things I have learned along my own healing journey and choice to engage in respectful parenting, this is the current path I’m choosing to take: to speak what I know and what I feel about this subject. Thank you for also caring enough to read my words. May they open you in whatever way you are willing to receive.
This first article is about the idea of calling children “good” or “bad” as it is a very common and yet a highly damaging seed to plant in a child’s mind. Ouch!
“Are you a good little girl/boy or a bad little girl/boy?” is a common question we hear parents or relatives say to children either when they are “acting up” or sometimes it is asked for no apparent reason. Simply as “conversation” with a child. To ask or tell a child they are good or bad based on their behavior seeds their consciousness and begins to shape it…beginning to help shape their personal identity about who they consider themselves to be. “Am I good or bad?”
Initially, we might think, “Well, great! We are guiding them to choose & understand goodness.” But are we, really? Before we can even invite someone into goodness we have to know and understand what WE define as good or bad. For starters, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ itself is highly subjective. What one person decides is good (or bad) could look completely different than another person. Examine cultural differences to any extent and you will discover this pretty immediately. But until we have sat down with ourselves and dug deep into our own sense of right, wrong, moral, immoral, positive, negative etc., then what we are doing is acting out of our own conditioning and wounding and imposing it on the child (asking them to heal and fix what we are unwilling or “unable” to) by forcing the idea of goodness/badness onto them.
The argument of “good”” and “bad” doesn’t hold up the moment you begin to examine it.
So, what are we doing then when we impose this idea on children? Well, I can tell you, it isn’t “good.” In other words…it isn’t positive. We aren’t helping them to develop a strong moral compass (though they might do so IN SPITE of this good/bad conditioning). Rather, we are building the breeding ground for shame. Laying the foundation of shame as a way to manipulate their behavior to be what we (the adults) want it to be and not helping them develop the understanding of how to work with whatever emotion is present for them.
This becomes compounded when their ability to self-reflect and have a clear connection with their emotions, which is normally done when adult figures repeatedly validate a child’s experience and help them to be with their emotions instead of continuously forcing them to deny their reality by avoiding, repressing and being told they are wrong (or worse: bad) for expressing the emotion that is true for them in the moment.
Children are so often expected to be able to handle big emotions better than adults (who often weren’t taught themselves how to handle them) and over and over again a child’s experience is denied. “You’re not really upset.” “You’re faking.” “Why are you so upset?” “There’s nothing ACTUALLY wrong. Stop crying.” Etc etc etc. This denial of their reality causes confusion and disorientation. It furthers the distress in the child. And ultimately, as adults, it leads to the inability (or very poor skills) in having an innerstanding of their emotions….how to manage & regulate them, take ownership, and to self-reflect—making doing the self-work necessary to heal from this trauma that much more difficult, because there isn’t the ability to have clear insight as to what is truly happening in their life. All issues in the adult’s life and personal relationships are now externalized, instead of being able to see the root issue of not having been seen and emotionally met as a child. It is a core wound.
I recognize the tenderness of guiding another human through the portals of ‘upbringing.’ To de-condition ourselves is one of the most profound and important things we will ever do for all generations who follow us. This false loyalty to ‘do things as they’ve always been done’ is detrimental to new generations. We have to be willing to DO BETTER than our parents did. To be willing to see where they fell short despite their best efforts and to see where we were ‘damaged’ in the process and TO DO IT BETTER. It is not true loyalty to remain oblivious. My mother gave me a profound and unceasing gift; when I became a mother, she told me that when she was raising me she made a conscious decision to do better than her parents did and she invited me to do the same. She freed me in that moment. She gave me permission to look into my wounds from my own upbringing and to heal them so as not to continue what never actually worked in the first place. Take the good (as in what felt GOOD deep in my soul) and leave the rest, but by GOD become aware of it first. We cannot let go of what we continue to deny or “not see.”
While we may imagine that we are instilling goodness in a child by telling (or asking) them if they are good or bad, what is actually happening is that they carry a massive level of shame and persistent feelings of “not enoughness.” Often times, as adults, they can’t even pin the feeling down because of this type of shaming coming along with the adults consistently conditioning them to repress, deny, shove down, and avoid their true feelings instead of loving and respecting them through their big emotions.
As an adult, would it go well for you if someone told you not to feel what you were feeling? Or that ONLY under certain circumstances were those big feelings acceptable? Here’s an example:
A child is upset because they cannot play with a toy right now.
To the unaware adult, all they see is total non-sense. In their eyes this is not a good enough reason to be upset and may even be triggered by the child’s big reaction (almost certainly because it wasn’t modeled to them that it is ok and SAFE to feel their feeling—regardless of how “logical” or illogical their reaction was). The adult then denies the child’s reality, maybe asks if they are good or bad little girl/boy and if they are “good” they can play with it later, maybe also throws in a threat to create more fear in the child, which causes them to shove their feeling(s) down--only to come out sideways later. There are usually words like, “There’s no reason to be upset. Stop crying. That’s enough. You’re not really crying.” Etc.
The child’s ability to learn how to interact with that big emotion was completely eliminated in that moment. Developing a sense of empathy, inner connectedness with their adult guardian(s), a strong sense of safety and emotional connection, and learning about how to respect through truly being respected….all on pause. Maybe next time?
But maybe “next time” doesn’t come. Fast forward to when the child is older and a family member dies and the child is deeply upset. Most often in family systems where sad/big emotions are generally denied, or even made bad or wrong, in the case of something serious like a death, the sad emotions are allowed. But likely there aren’t many other opportunities for those emotions to be felt, seen, and certainly not honored, because 'nothing other than death warrants big feelings' (even more unfortunate still, in some family systems even in the case of death only some sadness is “permitted”).
Let’s pause here to go all the way back to basics….
What are emotions?
Have you heard the saying: Emotions are energy in motion?
This is IT. Emotions need room to breathe, to move, to be felt, & witnessed. This. Is. How. They. Clear. Otherwise, what happens? They remain stuck inside of YOU. We may think because we no longer feel the feeling and for instance, aren’t sad anymore that it’s gone and if you truly felt it all the way through then that’s probably accurate, but if you in any way repressed or shoved it down, you better bet it’s still there and will resurface or perhaps cause a form of dis-ease or discord in some form down the line. Energy wants to move. If we don’t allow it to, it builds up, creating blocks to the flow of energy…. making relationships, self-development, creative capacity, even making money/having a thriving business and many more things, much more challenging.
So, what happens when a child’s emotion is constantly shut down and their reality denied? They learn to not trust what they feel, and ultimately to not trust themselves. They are taught to externalize their power and truth (someone else knows better than me what I feel, my emotions aren’t safe, and I will not be loved and/or respected if I show how I’m really feeling). Sounds great, right? Stuff it all down, right? It’s safer that way, right?
Not so much. Their relationships will be severely impacted throughout their whole life and they will continue to outsource their power (this person, this thing, this situation is making me upset). The window into their own internal experience is completely closed and blinds are drawn.
Does this scare you as you read this? Does it resonate? My prayer is that you do feel the impact of this reality. It is what so many people have lived and continue to repeat generation after generation after generation. We expand our awareness by learning, by knowledge, by taking in new information, and by lived example.
Did I make many of these mistakes or misjudgments in parenting my son? Absolutely, I did! I make plenty of 'mistakes' now still. And… I've made it my mission to become more aware of my own patterns so that I STOP the harmful ones in their tracks. We all have this ability. It is truly a matter of choice and of will. Strengthen your will, your resolve, to do better and devote yourself to it.
No person is all ‘good’ or all ‘bad’ (with very few exceptions) and children do NOT need that idea pushed on them in any way. They learn over the course of their life what is moral or immoral; from experience, from your example, from conversations the aware adults in their lives have with them about love, respect, kindness and how they show up for them during their hardest moments (regardless of how logical or illogical the adult believes the child’s reaction to be).
Consider a new way, not later, not in a few years, not when you have it ‘all figured out,’ but right now. May the ones in your life show you love and compassion in your hardest moments and may you do the same for others, especially the ones who are most susceptible to our influence…the children.
I am loving you,