Martin, my husband, and I are always telling Kendi how she’s a good girl. When she does something good and we approve, we tell her she’s a good girl. When she does something bad and we disapprove, we tell her what she’s done is bad, but we never say that she’s a bad girl.
The way I see it- and I think Martin agrees, because we’ve never actually talked about this before- is that we need to let Kendi know when she does good things and when she does bad things. But that those things don’t have a negative permanent impact on her character. She is a good girl, period. Sometimes, she does good things and sometimes she does bad things.
My cousin Chris was traveling one time from Kisumu in public transport. A woman with a little baby got in and sat down next to her. At some point, the baby began to whine, as all babies will at some point. The woman then started to insult the baby saying, ‘what do you want now you big headed baby? Why are you crying stupid? Are you wet you ugly little thing?’ Chris was so taken aback that she turned and asked the woman,
‘Is that your baby?’
‘Why are you speaking that way to him? Why are you insulting him?’ She continued.
‘Because he’s really disturbing me. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. I can’t figure out if he’s wet or needs food. He just won’t shut up the stupid fool.’
At this point, Chris, who was in high school and didn’t even have any children at the time, got very angry, ‘Madam, do not talk to your child that way. Do not insult him. Do not belittle him. He’s only a baby and even though he doesn’t understand your words, he understands your tone. And pretty soon, he will begin to understand your words and will live up to all those insults. He will become stupid and ugly with a big head. You must only speak positive things into your child’s life’
‘Ah’, she responded, ‘we were insulted growing up too. This is all I know’
‘No wonder you are doing the same thing to your child. You have been made to feel stupid and now you are behaving in a stupid way. Break the cycle’
And with that, the woman stopped insulting her child and started attending to his needs.
What’s that old saying about not calling a man a dog and then kicking him? In any case, if we went about telling Kendi that her character and her essence changes depending on her actions, we might have a situation on our hands where she believes that she can’t be a good girl because she stole some sugar from the jar. Her good girl status has been revoked and there’s nothing she can do to get it back. And that, I wouldn’t be able to live with.