No Such Thing as a Bad Kid

No Such Thing as a Bad Kid

This was originally an article in the Self-Reg Parenting Magazine Vol 1 Issue 2

Children have such different ways of responding to being over-stressed. Some get physically ill. Some get nervous and anxious. Some become manic and hyperactive. Some have trouble going to sleep and others don’t want to do anything but sleep. Some won’t say a word and others won’t stop talking. Some become emotionally volatile and some shut down. Some get clingy and others become distant. Some can’t focus on anything and others have problems with hyper-focus. And some kids get very angry and aggressive.


What all these children have in common is that they behave in a characteristic way when they are over-stressed: what becomes a sort of patterned response. But what markedly distinguishes between them, is how we react.

Seeing a child suffer brings out the nurturing side in all of us: except for the child who responds to his distress by becoming angry or aggressive. He’s the one who is seen as having a “character problem.” The one who is yelled at, punished, restrained, shunned. The one that we automatically react to harshly: never asking “Why?” or “Why now?” when he lashes out.

The “bad kid” is the one who gets labelled as having some “personality flaw”: the one who is said to have “low frustration tolerance”; to be “unfeeling” or “oppositional.”  He’s the one who is seen as having poor self-control; a lack of empathy; no sense of right or wrong. Just hearing a child labeled with one of these terms is enough to determine how you will always see that child.

The worst part of all this is not that it completely misses the mark: it is that it often brings about the very thing you dread. Treat a kid as if he’s bad and before you know it he’ll start to see himself this way. He’ll be the first one to write himself off; the first to be upset by behaviour that he no more understands than you do; who sees all adults as threats. Before you know it, he’s behaving in the very ways he’s been told he’s likely to behave.

Recognizing the difference between misbehaviour and stress-behaviour is the first step to helping a child who is subject to angry explosions or aggression. Like all children, he needs to feel safe and secure with us. But that is not going to happen until we realize that there is no such thing as a bad kid.

By | 2019-02-13T11:06:47+00:00 January 22nd, 2019|


  1. Favourite Links | Rousseau's ELP 1 January 25, 2019 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    […] No Such Thing As A Bad Kid – Stuart Shanker’s recent blog post speaks to how Paula and I see kids. It aligns so well with our recent presentation for the HWPC Conference (Principals’ Conference). Definitely worth reading and thinking about for parents, educators, and administrators.  […]

  2. Sascha January 29, 2019 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    Great start to an article. Would love to have read more on how to control this behaviour or work out ways to find out what they’re stressed about.

    • Helen Fraser January 31, 2019 at 12:38 am - Reply

      Have a look at non violent communication model Empathy is fantastic Instead of yelling at them Ask them how are they feeling ? Labelling emotions helps calm the brain down

    • susan Hopkins February 12, 2019 at 9:13 pm - Reply

      Dear Sascha, good point! It is a short article; that is simply because of its reposted from our parenting magazine. There are many ways to learn more but a good place to start is to consider the difference between Self-regulation and self-control:

    • Jeanine Piatz March 28, 2019 at 6:18 pm - Reply

      Click on the hyperlinks throughout the article to get details on that term/topic.

  3. Sophie February 4, 2019 at 2:26 am - Reply

    Is there more to read on this topic please?

  4. C.Wells February 4, 2019 at 10:18 pm - Reply

    So we recognize that it is a stress behaviour… then what? What is the response when the child is tearing the house apart or hitting siblings or using strong language …

    • susan Hopkins February 12, 2019 at 9:10 pm - Reply

      I wish I had a magic answer, a strategy that could whisk away all the challenges in one swoop but I don’t. There is loads of hope though. We hear story after story about how learning more, going deeper not just into understanding Self-Reg for our children, but for ourselves changed everything. We do have a parenting FB page where parents support parents. There are also YouTube videos, and lots to read on our website. Have you noodled around on the website to see what’s here?

  5. Leah Nette February 10, 2019 at 7:25 am - Reply

    Wow! The 5th paragraph really hit home for me. I had a student who was labeled as “The Bad Kid,” and he definitely knew it. Students would often come to me complaining this particular student was unkind, hurt them, or bullied them. When I approached this student to find out what happened, he would hang his head, his face would flush and he would accept the blame. It took me a while to realize that this was a conditioned response. He either assumed it was him, or he knew this is what he was expected to do when confronted. With the help of his parents, we had to go through a months long process in teaching him he was not always to blame, and he had to speak up in his own defence. Once a child is labeled, it can be difficult to re-train them to think differently about themselves. I had to create an environment where this child felt safe and teach hime to be his own advocate when he was accused of doing something wrong. This child was in Grade Two, and it is difficult to believe he could already be intrenched in this role as “The Bad Kid.” How many students go through school this way, and in what ways does this impact their lives as adults?

    • Consuela February 24, 2019 at 11:57 pm - Reply

      Sadly Leah I have seen this over the years working in different schools with several different students and educators I think that there needs to be a change in direction. Or that it become mandatory for all educators to take this self reg course over the summer. LOL. There are so many old school teachers who still believe or practice that punishing the BAD KID is how its done.
      Yet it has never worked before and they still use this today. Heart breaking. I wish more educators would change their way of thinking and put an end to shaming, blaming and labeling the BAD KID. Way to many students go through this thinking and believing that they are always to blame.

  6. susan Hopkins February 12, 2019 at 9:14 pm - Reply

    Dear Sascha, good point! It is a short article; that is simply because of its reposted from our parenting magazine. There are many ways to learn more but a good place to start is to consider the difference between Self-regulation and self-control:

  7. […] No Such Thing as a Bad Kid […]

  8. Jacinta Read July 5, 2019 at 5:10 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this. Very timely and I’m pretty sure I will need to revisit it to remind myself in the heat of it all!

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