Why I Don’t Tell My Children to “Be Nice”

Be sure to say thank you.

Share with your sister.

Take turns.

Make wise choices.

Be kind to your brother.

Act like you are somebody.

You don’t always have to be first in line.

Be a good friend.

Let it go.

I say all of these things and many, many more to one or another of my crew at least once a day and then some.  But there’s one thing that I used to say that I found myself almost saying today that I will be very careful about ever saying again.

Be nice.

Cooter had one of his activities today.  After he finished I asked him how it had gone.  He shrugged.  This is one of the very few times he’s not outnumbered by all the estrogen in the room, and I know he can get rowdy along with the best of them–all those boys.  Whew.

“I was good.  I tried.  It was just hard.”

I asked him how.  He proceeded to call one of the others “creepy” and I corrected him.  No name-calling.  That is not okay.

“Well, it is, Mama.  He wants to hug me all the time.  It creeps me out.”

And there it was.  On the tip of my tongue.

Be.  Nice.

Only I caught myself just in time.  A glance in the rearview mirror assured me that he was serious.


It’s been a little over a year since I had the conversation with my oldest where she shared what she had read–that we shouldn’t tease anyone about someone being mean because they have a crush on them.  We don’t want anyone to equate meanness or cruel words or hurtful actions with affection.  Not when they’re little.  Not ever.

And this takes it one step further.  If I were to tell Cooter, now be nice, he just wants to hug you, that means he wants to be your friend, imagine how that could mess him up later on.  Sure, this is all innocent–a boy who is younger than him, wanting to hug it out because he wants to be friends.  Just a year ago, that was very likely how Cooter was with his older friend there.  But what if?  What if later on someone else’s “touch” gives him the “creeps,” and I’ve set the precedent of ignoring those feelings, not giving them validation, and told him to “be nice,” that they just want to be his friend. I have to show him I trust him now, that I respect his “creepy” feelings if I want him to continue sharing these things with me and be able to stand up for himself.

It’s a scary and wonderful world we live in.  And as I’ve said before, this raising of the children is not for the faint of heart.  These children with their precious little selves, always listening and watching and paying attention and not always when you really want or need them to, they are so fragile and strong.  So vulnerable and wise.  So innocent and knowing.  All of that.  I don’t want to mess this up.

It’s so hard to know what’s right, you know?  It is so instinctual for me to want my children to be kind, to be polite, and to be respectful.  It was on the very tip of my tongue to correct my boy, to crush any hope of him talking about this kind of thing to me again–all with those two simple words.  Be. Nice.

Instead I gathered my thoughts, and told him that I could appreciate how that made him feel uncomfortable.  I suggested that next time, if it happens again, he should step back and put his hand up and say, “Hey, I can be your friend, but I don’t want to be hugged.”  And if the little guy doesn’t stop, he should go and let a grownup know that he doesn’t care to be hugged.

I don’t know.  It’s so hard to know, isn’t it?  All I can do, as my Mama often said, is the best I can do with what I have now.  And right now, I think the most important thing is for each of my children to feel heard and know that they can bring any story, anything at all, home for me to hear.  I can’t promise not to flip out–it’s kind of my thing (yes, another thing)–but I can promise I won’t leave their side.  Not even once.

"Stickered" by my little guy.  Not a prouder Mama anywhere around.  Love that boy.
“Stickered” by my little guy. Not a prouder Mama anywhere around. Love that boy.

I guess I must have done okay because Cooter gave me his sticker from today.  He smiled so brightly (oh how I love that toothless grin) and seemed plum tickled with himself over it.  I wore it proudly all afternoon and evening.  Let folks stare.  My baby boy thinks I’m awesome.

And tonight I’m thankful for that.  And so much more.

Love to all.



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