Family

Why Trying To Raise 'Good' Kids Is A Huge Mistake

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glowing happy Black mom with two young daughters

I can see the surprised posturing, the doubting squints, and the pursed lips. I can feel the tension as some of you read this headline. But if you keep reading, you just might agree.

In fact, you may have been one of those kids raised to be "good" who became one of those adults who struggles with people-pleasing and personal boundaries.

And you just may be exhausted from a life of compliance and feeling unseen and unheard.

While it isn't necessarily a mistake to try to raise "good" kids, it does depend on how you define "good."

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How do you define a "good" kid?

Some parents may define "good" as well-behaved, compliant, and a rule follower. Some may include being kind, compassionate, and respectful to others.

It becomes a mistake when good kids learn to comply with others' wishes despite feeling it isn't right or reasonable, and could even be harmful. It becomes a mistake when children believe that authority figures are to be followed no matter their thoughts and feelings. 

These kids grow up vulnerable, taken advantage of, and develop low self-esteem. It becomes a mistake when kids do not know who they are, trust themselves, and have the confidence to stand up and speak up to peers, parents, and other adults. 

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Are we confusing being kind with being good?

Perhaps you've heard it said; it's not what you say but how you say it.

If your goal is for your child to have a strong sense of self, healthy esteem, and be respectful of others — teach them that they can say no, disagree, and walk away without being rude.  If your desire is for them to live up to your expectation, teach them to communicate with kindness and respect, no matter the situation.

   

   

There is a difference between being assertive and true to themselves and being 'bad.' Saying 'no' or disagreeing with someone doesn't have to be rude or ugly. The behavior or how they assert their opinion or decision is a choice, and that is what is good or bad.

Make sure they also know that not dealing with an issue — avoidance — contributes to ongoing conflict and often builds anxiety until resolved.

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All kids need to be safe, and feel loved, and accepted. Putting the desires and needs of others, ahead of themselves as a strategy for success may work for a while, but becomes detrimental. Continually doing so will negatively impact their overall development.

While they may become an ace at avoiding conflict, their inner conflict festers and boils, wreaking havoc on their lives. They may become ill, creating unhealthy habits that last into adulthood. Relationships, performance, or academics may suffer.

Everyone has some fear of rejection, abandonment, and judgment. Everyone craves approval and admiration. And those who care too much about what people think will say 'yes' even when stressed, and when someone says 'jump,' they ask, 'how high?'

It all started with their parents' definitions and expectations and their own interpretations of being "good." 

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Many adults may recall feeling excited and threatened to remain in compliance with the message of this popular holiday song Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. I mean, this guy knows when you're sleeping and awake, and he's making a list; he knows if you've been bad or good, and you better be good, for goodness sake.

I know I was kept in line, emotionally stifled, and ultimately silenced to receive the reward of being on the nice list, not left out, rejected, or humiliated for having been sad, mad, or caused any trouble throughout the year. Seen but not heard. That was "good."

This people-pleasing disease became something I had to overcome as an adult, and I now help others do as well. It is vital to living a soul-free life.

You may relate to someone like Brenda. She willingly gave up her interests to support those of her spouse. She had a lifetime pattern of doing so. Yet, she was always left feeling bitter and resentful. And she has struggled with weight issues since childhood.

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Or perhaps someone like Andy. 

He was an exceptional athlete, who held himself back. He didn't want to come across as overly eager and competitive. He wanted to be liked and accepted. He'd settle for second best and let another shine. Regret and 'what could have been' haunt him.

Maybe you can relate to Carla. 

Her guilt and shame keep her in an abusive relationship. She has been denied emotions, opinions, and a voice for so long that she has lost who she is as an individual and remains submissive.

Every time she gets a glimpse of what she thinks feels, needs, wants, and believes, guilt overshadows it. Her sense of duty to make someone else happy — sometimes her church, her parents, her spouse — keeps her in her place.

Do you know what's good to try? Rediscovering your true self and learning to live an authentic life with balance and boundaries. You are a beautiful, uniquely gifted human meant to enjoy life to the fullest. It can happen. And there is always time to shift how you raise your kids. After all, you are their role model; believe me, they're making a list and checking it twice.

RELATED: Why Kids Who 'Talk Back' Grow Up To Be Better Adults

Ann Papayoti, PCC, is an author, speaker, educator, and coach. She helps people untangle from their past and heal their hearts.

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