Sunday, February 8, 2009

'Good' or 'Adult Convenient'?

Were you a good child?  Do you have a good child?  What does that mean, anyway?

During my years working with families, I was fascinated by how often good came up. Babies come into the world and are immediately either good feeders and good sleepers (or not). I never heard an adult call a child bad, we don't say, "He's a really bad sleeper," but instead, "You know, he hardly ever sleeps".

Shortly afterward, the child will be good with new foods (or a picky eater), a good walker or talker (or else 'not walking/talking yet'), and good with strangers (or 'shy').  

If adults want a child to be quiet, stay put and keep its hands to itself, they ask it to be good.

This good thing is hard on adults who, deep down, feel the child they are with is not being good.  I say, "You know, there's not much moral dimension to behaviour in the under 3s, and none at all in the under 2s.  It's probably easier to think of good as adult convenient. If a child is not in-conveniencing the adults in its vicinity, it is called a good child.

I don't think it's possible for a small child to be bad, in the sense of making a moral choice with an understanding of the implications.  In fact most small children aren't thinking about the people around them much at all, they're just reacting to their own experience and needs. 

An adult convenient child will not just behave in a way that makes life easier for the adults around it, it will behave in such a way as to reflect glory onto them.  

An adult convenient child will happily interact with paid carers, teachers, medical staff and other children.  An adult convenient child will joyfully bang on a child-safe instrument when offered.  An adult convenient child will meet, or preferably exceed, any developmental milestone available. An adult convenient child never makes noise in banks or cafes.

Yes, that's right, the perfect good child - the perfect adult convenient child - is not really a child at all!  It is a mechanized doll.


roe said...

Me, I was a BAD sleeper. My parents walked for hours trying to get me to sleep. One night they drove to St Andrews and back, only to have me screaming 10 minutes after the car stopped. They will still tell everybody about what a bad baby I was, and not in a funny way, but in an 'ohmigod, we didn't sleep for three years' way. I am the anti-gold standard against which all other babies look good.

roe said...

p.s. our cattery lady always comments that my cats are 'good eaters'. Why is this a compliment?

Michelle Spencer said...

Hi Roe,

Sorry I didn't reply earlier.

I think when we were young it was still acceptable for babies to be "bad". I was a bad baby because I cried all the time unless my mother held me, for the first 9 months of my life.

Your cats - as "good eaters" - are exhibiting adult-convenient behaviour par excellence! It is inconvenient to the cattery lady if your cats pine and refuse to eat because it makes her look like she is not taking care of them properly.