ControverSunday: When bad kids happen to good parents

Okay team, lets get this party started! This weeks topic: When Bad Kids happen to good parents is brought to you by @breebop– if you are a twitterite go and say hello. Also, pick up your all important badge from Accidents and then write up your own post with thoughts on the topic at hand. And then come back here for the link up. (Notice how I didn’t make it sound like it was optional?)


Tortured Potato

Friends, lets be honest, this is essentially a question of nature versus nurture. And what do I say to any question of nature versus nurture? Yes. Column A and Column B. Both.

First off, as I said in my intro to this topic, I don’t believe in the concept of a ‘bad’ kid. Yes, some children have more socially appropriate behavior, better coping mechanisms for anger or stress, or a more well rounded approach to life. But I do not believe any child is ‘bad’. Actually, I have a hard time believing that any person is ‘bad’. There are people out there that do horrific, inhumane, down right evil things, don’t get me wrong. But I believe they do so for deep, painful psychological reasons born of horrible, inhumane, and down right evil things that happened to them. Does this excuse or make okay the horrible things some people do? No. But I do think every person is born with the capacity to be incredibly kind, compassionate and good and to be incredibly cruel, hurtful and hateful. And some of us may have a greater capacity for one way or an other. (AKA Nature) But if and how and what we become? That is because of the collection of all our experiences. (AKA Nurture). So, when it comes to kids, I think they all have the capacity to be amazingly confident, intelligent, kind and compassionate human beings. They also have the capacity to be little rotters; disrespectful, unkind, engaging in dangerous behaviour.

BUT. Before I get into to the parents in the equation, let me also just say that I fully believe that we (the royal we, as in North American Society) have an unrealistic understanding of what is ‘bad behaviour’ on a part of our children and what is 100% normal developmental challenges, AKA kids being kids. We forget (or don’t realize) that the business of going from newborn to our early twenties is one of the most complex, face paced, disorientating series of physical, psychological, emotional and cognitive changes one could ever imagine. With all the change and all that to accomplish, we have to expect that our kids are not going to be able to handle it all with 100% composure. Heck, I can’t handle one stressful month with 100% composure! Babies and toddlers rarely sleep through the night 100% of the time. Toddlers challenge, throw tantrums and act out. Kids and Teenagers? Well I am sure do stuff too (I just don’t have the experience yet to know exactly what it is, but I am sure I am in for a ride). Growing up is hard to do, yo. So I think we need to be very aware of this when we discuss the concept of a ‘misbehaved’ kid. Are they really misbehaved or are they just going through the roller coaster ride we call childhood and need more of our support? ( also, even if they are really misbehaved the answer is still more support in my opinion.)

I think most patterns of misbehaviour are a normal part of growing up. You know, ‘it’s a stage, they’ll grow out of it.’ That being said, I do wholeheartedly believe that parents have an impact, and a big one at that.

Let me explain it this way. My daughter is working her way up to what we call ‘the terrible twos’. Which are called such because toddlers are notorious for challenging and trying to establish control. As Janet says she’s “doing her job.” That is a stage where kids exhibit some fairly ‘bad’ behaviour. But as her parent, I can have an impact, both in making the behaviour worse and in making the behaviour better. Clear consistent boundaries, really being present and giving her attention, a regular routine that helps her to feel safe; these are all things I can do to make the situation better. Getting frustrated, ignoring her because she is driving me nuts, letting her see me get really stressed out; these are all things that I can do to make the situation worse.

Here is the thing. I don’t know about you, but I am human. Which means by definition I make mistakes. Which also means by definition that in some way, some how, it is likely that I will ‘screw up my kid’. I don’t believe in the perfect parent.

What I do believe in is trying our best to recognize when things are going down a not so good behaviour path with our kids. Then trying our very best to be better parents so that we mitigate the potential negative behaviour in our kids. To do this we need to be honest with ourselves that sometimes, even things we do that are well meaning, may be having a negative impact. So we need to be the adult and do whatever we can to turn things around. Especially when our kids are young, because by the time they get to be teenagers I think our impact lessens somewhat.

And sure, there are bad parents out there. I don’t believe in bad people but I do believe in bad parents. Parenting is a skill and we all have the potential to be bad at a skill. Particularly if we don’t care and try and make the effort. And chances are that kids with parents who really truly aren’t engaged, reflective, caring, nurturing and loving… well those kids probably are going to struggle in terms of their behaviour. They don’t have someone helping them to learn the skills we need to lead happy lives. And that sucks.

But I do believe that most people are good parents. And as good parents we make mistakes and sometimes our kids suffer behaviour-wise for it. But we always have the opportunity to make things better. To learn a few new skills for that parenting tool kit and help our kids be better behaved as a result. We are all going to screw up along this journey, but so long as we are trying our best and being really honest with ourselves about our role in our kids behaviour, then chances are they will be just fine. Might still need therapy for when we wouldn’t let them become a synchronized swimmer (just kidding Mom!), but other then that, they will be just fine.


9 responses to “ControverSunday: When bad kids happen to good parents

  1. Perpetua September 26, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Hmm. You have me thinking about whether there is such a thing as an inherently bad person. I’m thinking of my mom’s experiences as a teacher, and…yeah, it’s pretty much true, the “bad” kids had their reason for being that way, and generally it was due to coming from very, very, VERY bad home situations. And there was always a core of loving sweetness in those kids; it just wasn’t tapped. However, there was the occasional oddball kid who was just…sociopathic, for lack of a better word. And yes, those kids came from difficult situations too. But I remember being able to tell the difference between kids who were remorseful over their actions–who wished they had the self control to NOT punch another kid, or set fires in the bathroom (that happened a lot)–and those kids who seemed like they enjoyed, almost gloried in causing trouble. Those are the kids who worry the crap out of me. I feel like, if E does something bad and then feels bad about it, we’re doing okay as parents. But if he enjoys it? I think that’s where the nature is winning over the nurture, and that is a major cause for concern.

    (Oh, and I’m talking about the serious stuff here. I would imagine that there will come a day when E will dump a can of flour on the floor and enjoy the heck out of it–that doesn’t worry me. I’m talking obviously bad stuff, like causing physical harm to others.)

  2. Ginger September 27, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    When I was in high school, I babysat for these family friends. Mom and dad were lovely. Oldest daughter, around 9, was an angel. The little boy, around 6 I think, was an unholy terror. He would bite, and hit, and throw things, with GLEE. His poor sister always had bruises and scratches. His parents had this hang-dog look at all times. I would come home from babysitting with bruises and cuts (one particular bout, he kicked me in the ribs so hard I lost my breath for a minute or so. I had a LOVELY bruise from that one). They couldn’t have pets because they were afraid of what he might do to them for goodness sake.

    They had him in all kinds of programs to figure out where it was all coming from because he was one of those kids who had zero remorse. Zero. I don’t believe it was something the parents did, or some traumatic event that made him that way. But to this day, I’m hesitant to say he was a “bad” kid at his core. Psychologically disturbed? Absolutely. Missing compassion? For sure. But BAD? I still don’t know.

    • amoment2think September 27, 2010 at 6:42 pm

      There are a lot of people that know someone like this. You know, where one kid is good, parents are awesome and doing everything they can, and the one kid is just a terror regardless. So I am sure there are some cases where no matter what the parents do, the kid is still a mess.

      That being said, I still wonder. Obviously I don’t know this situation AT ALL, but lots of people seem to have an example like this, so my reaction more generally to these examples is to wonder a couple things. I wonder if the parents are amazing, but their parenting style more suited to one of their kids then an other. If there is one thing I truly believe about kids is that they are all so different and respond to different things and sometimes I imagine it hard to switch back and forth styles to suit both kids. I guess what I am saying is that I don’t believe in ‘blaming’ the parents, like ‘it must have been something they did’. But chances are that something they are doing isn’t working for that kid. They may not at all be the ’cause’ of the issues, but I am sure they could be part of the solution. (There has to be a solution!)

      Maybe the cause is bad influence from a friend or a negative situation that they don’t know how to deal with. Try as we might, there are many things our kids will experience that are 100% out of our control; we aren’t the be all and end all of their behaviour.

      But I do think there is probably a way for parents to get through to these types of kids, even if it is very difficult to figure out just what will work. Finding the key might take a ton of work, but I do think it is possible in most cases. Or at least that’s what I like to tell myself- I am sure this will come back and kick me in the butt one day.

      That being said, I am totally with you on the question of ‘bad’. I can’t accept that that kid is bad. They just don’t know how to deal, you know?

      • Ginger September 27, 2010 at 9:26 pm

        Honestly, since I was just a teenager at the time, I couldn’t even begin to speculate on their parenting (as a 17 year old, it’s not like I was paying attention, ya know?). I do know that they spent years both before and after I was there going to counseling, both alone and as a family. I’m tempted to find out from my mom if she knows what happened with the family, I’d love to find out where this kid is some 13 years later.

        I do think their older daughter was just…easy. For sure. And I do think that having an easy kid and then a VERY difficult kid has got to be a big part of the issue. But when you put in years of work with the kid who’s terrorizing everyone to no avail, what do you do? I’m not being factitious either, what do you do? (this is actually one of my big fears in parenting…not just that Jackson will be a terror, but that I won’t know what to DO if he is).

      • amoment2think September 28, 2010 at 5:00 am

        Totally, there is no way we can speculate on this particular case– I was just responding more generally to the scenario. And I totally hear you. What do you do? I mean, I am sure the answer is case by case, but I don’t doubt it is very very difficult. Your not the only one with that fear! I think we all have it. Which is why I think this whole topic of misbehaved kids and what parents can do is interesting…. we all worry if it might be us.

      • Tracy November 24, 2010 at 12:02 pm

        I realize that my parenting style is suited to our youngest,6, rather than our oldest,8. Thank you for reinforcing what I need to do. Accept the challenge for the good of greater man kind! I have a hard time believing in “bad kids/people. I believe that everyone is capable of kindness and sometimes people do bad things in order to learn lessons in Life.

  3. clara September 28, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Whew, I finally got to this and I think I wrote pretty much the same thing as you! Oh well..the more the merrier?

    So, I totally agree. Especially with your point about developmental stuff. For every person who thinks it’s cool for their kid to punch another kid in the face because boys will be boys, there is a person who thinks a toddler tossing some sand deserves to be screamed at. Yikes.

  4. middle child October 2, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Your posts are so simple to read yet so philosophical. I believe that a child gets his traits from his ancestors. That is, he gets the values not just through his environment but also his genes. No proof though..

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