For a few days, a video has been circulating on social networks that invites reflection.

It shows a girl crying helplessly because her mother (or adult in charge) has asked her to behave , but she doesn’t know how to do it or understand exactly what those words mean . Faced with the correct reflection of her little girl, her mother tries to clarify her concept by telling her that “behaving well” is “paying attention” . However, far from helping the girl better understand the situation, the woman’s explanation is even more confusing. 

Today we analyze what “behaving well” and “paying attention” means to children , and why these orders that adults often give are not adequate to educate.

What does it mean for a child to “behave well”?

Who hasn’t asked their child to “behave”?  It is a phrase that adults have internalized and normalized, and to which we all probably give the same meaning.

In this way, if we ask anyone what it means for a child to behave well , they will probably answer that “he is good” , that he obeys, that he does not raise his voice , that he is calm, that he makes us look good in front of others… definitively, that it does what we want it to do at all times.

However, if we pose the same question to a young child , the logical and expected thing is that he does not know what to answer us, because for him it is a broad, complex and extremely confusing concept.

And is it that the child who jumps in a puddle, screams , bursts into a tantrum , refuses to greet a lady he does not know with two kisses, or hits another child in the park is “misbehaving”?

With the order “behave well” , adults are forcing us to repress the normal and expected behavior of children , without giving them any explanation. In other words, we are not connecting with their needs , accompanying them emotionally, offering them clear and respectful guidelines, nor teaching them to internalize social norms in a positive way .

That is why the order “behave well” is confusing for children and does not serve to educate. Our children need us to accompany them in their learning of life and that we teach them the limits in a clear, proportionate and positive way .

Why we should not educate our children to “pay attention to us”

Attached to the concept of “behaving well” is that of “paying attention” . For the adult, a child “behaves well” when he obeys, follows orders without protest and does not break the limits imposed .

But like the previous one, this phrase is totally confusing, inappropriate and not at all educational for children for several reasons:

1) We nullify their ability to decide

To begin with, when we force the child to “pay attention” we are nullifying his ability to decide .

Obviously, there will be times when children must obey us without any conditions when their safety or that of others is at stake. These are non-negotiable limits that adults must teach them to comply with, explaining the reasons and the consequences of not doing so .

But leaving these unbreakable limits aside, if we want our children to become independent, self-confident and assertive adults in the future , we must not educate them with authoritarianism , continuous refusals and orders that seek their submission.

2) They are not responsible for their actions

As parents, we should not want our children to obey us and do what we want at all times , but rather that they learn and take responsibility for their actions.

To do this, we must set proportionate, fair and respectful limits in which the children themselves get involved . Because when we foster a sense of belonging, the limits are better internalized and it is easier to achieve commitment on the part of the child.

In addition, it is essential to give the child autonomy in their own learning . Obviously he will fail (as we all fail at some point), but in his own mistakes he will find a way to continue learning , as well as to repair the consequences of his actions.

3) We do not encourage their autonomy and other skills

And finally, we must not forget that when we accompany and teach the child in a respectful and positive way, we are promoting their autonomy and helping them develop important life skills.

In short, we must educate our children so that they grow up free, confident and with their own criteria that allows them to question certain things or make their own decisions in the different situations that life will present.

This means that although they will not always do what we want or expect , it is important to trust them, encourage them and, of course, respectfully accompany them in their learning and help them whenever they need us.