When Did Saying "Good Girl" Become So Bad?

LOL 125

Recently, I attended a dinner party. A couple brought their two-year-old girl with them. One never knows how a toddler and a fancy restaurant will go down, but the little girl held up through a four-hour dinner with panache -- coloring on her paper, eating her chicken strips and sweet potato fries without complaint, and generally being well behaved and social.

Towards the end of the gathering, the little girl ended up sitting next to me. So we're sitting there, chillin', and she was doing something cute with her large red bib, when I cooed, "Aren’t you a good girl?" Her mother -- a very nice woman, by the way, don’t get me wrong -- leaned over and said, calmly but firmly, “We don’t use the term 'good girl.' "

In New York City, the land of extreme-parenting, there's about a million different ways one could go wrong around a child in the eyes of the hyper-vigilant parent, and I had just bumped smack dab into one of them. In using the term "good girl," I had unwittingly crashed some parental ordinance of which I had no knowledge, but had been scolded for nonetheless. It wasn't one of those things that you could classify as obvious not to say around a child. Such as, say, "muhthaf**king crackwho*re."

I knew that I should shrug off a little micro-mothering without taking it personally. But my mind began pulsing with self-criticism: Why did I call her that? Didn’t everyone know to avoid the term 'good girl'? Sheesh, I might as well have just handed her a Barbie doll and told her she needs to grow up to look just … like … THAT.

I wondered why the term "good girl" was bad. Could being called this cause the child grow into a miserably martyrish "people pleasing" adult who denied her own needs in order to be "good"? Had I just unwittingly committed her to years of therapy? Should I have avoided any value judgment and stuck with the facts, saying something like, "Aww, you are a female child playing with her bib."

A couple of nights before, I’d spent a few hours with the two-year-old daughter of a friend of mine, and had repeatedly used the Aww, you’re a good girl line. My friend had not stopped me. In fact, she looked quite pleased. Sometimes, you just wish parents would all get the same memo.

Have you ever said the wrong thing in front of a parent?


Image via Tammra McCauley/Flickr

girls, toddler development


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SuzyB... SuzyBarno

Ya, my hubby once called our niece(she was about 6 months) "princess". We were quickly corrected.

nonmember avatar Guest

Hm.. I think that "good girl" implies that there are also "bad girls" which might interfere with the parenting style where parents don't call their child good or bad, but rather they point out the particular behavior that is good or bad.

Kaymad41 Kaymad41

My God, you've scarred that child for life. You should have used a gender neutral term such as aren't you a good human being or aren't you a good little citizen. Oh well, I'm sure a few sessions with the therapist should undo the damage you've caused. Let's hpe the nanny is informed so she'll be on the look out for disruptive behaviour now that the little human knows what gender she is.

Todd Vrancic

Aren't you a tad oversensitive?  The mother of the child was simply informing you for future reference that they, for whatever reason, don't use the term "good girl."  It is recommended in some parenting styles to point out that there are no good or bad children, it is just the behavior that is good or bad.  But really, the mother of that child didn't read you the riot act, she made one calm, firm statement.

jalaz77 jalaz77

Oh god what a jerk. Should of asked, what do you say to a child with 'perfect' manners then?? Or do they not use the positive reinforcement theory? Not sure if I have ever said anything wrong in front of a parent or at least I have never been corrected. That mom will forever correct people and what an exhausted life she will lead.

Qmama206 Qmama206

I personally don't see anything wrong with telling a child boy or girl that they are being "good" You have to teach small children that some behaviors at certain times are good while at other times certain behaviors can be bad. My 53 year old mother in law tells me at 24 that i'm a "good girl" when she approves of something I have done. Adults also need to understand kids are kids so when you praise them in a positive light it makes them feel good about themselves. I think all this gender neutral crap parents are on needs to stop. Let little girls be "good girls" We also should try to keep our kids as innocent as possible instead of subjecting them and our friends to the parental  politics that goes on in the house. 


jalaz77 jalaz77

Todd- people say good girl ALL THE TIME. Maybe that mom should have stated what they do say to her cause the rest of the world is beneath that.


I don't think you did anything wrong Kiri. I it was the parents who were rude. Boy are they in for a rude awaking when that little girl gets on the school bus. Oh the things you hear on there!!

dynom... dynomitesmall

I think some of you are missing the point. It's not about the gender. I happen to feel the same way. It is important to specify to a child that it is the behavior that is "good". And saying "good girl" or "good boy" just sounds like you should be talking to a dog. I think this mom should have let it go if it was someone who isn't around the kid very often, though. Hearing "good girl" a few times isn't going to cause a great deal of damage.

nonmember avatar Rach

I know sometimes I've felt a little pang of wrongness with using the term "good girl" or "good boy" with children, as that is a term I use with dogs. Don't get me wrong, I still use it, because what else are you going to say, "that behavior you are currently displaying is good/not good" (because heaven forbid you use the word "bad")? They're children for goodness sakes, not robots!

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