Naughty or nice? Let’s stop labelling children


Did you know that if your child is called Leah or James, they’re more likely to be badly behaved than if your child is called Grace or Oliver? Yep, thanks to new research released today, we now know which are the ‘naughty’ names and which are the ‘nice’ names – a very hot topic, I’m sure you’ll agree, what with Christmas coming up and Father Christmas busy working out which children are on his naughty list and will be receiving a nice lump of coal on December 25th.

The research has been pulled together by School Stickers, a company which makes reward chart labels. They’ve looked at 70,000 kids that they made stickers for, and worked out which names belong to the kids who get ‘well done’ stickers more than others.

But here’s the thing. Labels on reward charts, I’m down with. But labelling children? Not so much.

How are Eleanor and Jasmine or Joseph and Joshua going to feel that they’ve been branded as more likely to be naughty, because of their name (a name, it should be pointed out, which was chosen by their parents, so not something they have any control over)?

Neil Hodges, managing director of School Stickers says it’s all just harmless fun! (LOL) “Our annual ‘Santa’s Naughty and Nice list’ is just a bit of fun and not meant to be taken seriously,” he says. “There are many children called Leah and Joseph who are perfect little angels, just as there are many called Harry and Anna who Santa is watching!”

But the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Aren’t we past the days of labelling children as being ‘naughty’? I spent my primary school years getting into all sorts of trouble at school (including, age 6, when I drew on other kids’ school shirts and the countless times my desk was moved to face the wall or even outside the classroom). I’m fairly certain that a lot of the way I behaved was down to me being labelled a naughty child. “Oh, I’m naughty! OK, let’s have some fun with this…”

Of course, I’m no psychologist but Dr Sandra Wheatley is, and she agrees, saying: “If you continually berate a child, however young they are, there is a tipping point when they come to believe in their behaviour. It’s as if they know there is so much ground to be made up to ever not be ‘bad’ that it is just easier to act in a certain way.”

So even though this appears to be a harmless ‘light’ news story, generated to give School Stickers a bit of pre-Christmas publicity, it’s so not cool. It just encourages people to label kids – naughty, clever, shy, sporty, artistic – when we should be focusing on helping our children discovering for themselves what they enjoy doing, what they’re good at, how they handles tricky situations, how they handle their emotions.

Neil Hodges, your stickers are being crossed off my Christmas list this year.

Image of stocking: Shutterstock



  1. November 25, 2015 / 5:52 pm

    Its unfair to label a childs behaviour based on their name. I see it as no different on labelling their behaviour based on height, eye colour etc. All nonsense. I read something similar earlier aswell as the women with certain names more likely to be pregnant next year. 1 being my name. Surely i have a child when i decide and not when my name pre destines.

  2. November 25, 2015 / 6:37 pm

    My 5 yo is a character, bit mischievous and not an adult pleaser like his big brother. He had a run of bad behaviour and instead of trying to up the praise and reward for good behaviour school went the other way. He started begging not to go to school and cried to me at bed time that he was a naughty boy and couldn’t be good. We really had to take school to task and fortunately he has a better teacher this year. What worries me is that we’ve ‘lost’ him already from school. I worry that this could impact later on as his image of himself and his confidence are not great. So I whole heartedly with what you have said about these stickers.

  3. November 25, 2015 / 8:59 pm

    I totally agree with you! Kids are already given labels based on their names because people make assumptions about social class etc; the last thing we need is being told they’ll be naughty or nice too!

  4. November 26, 2015 / 6:13 pm

    As a teacher in a pretty tough school we have a ‘fresh start’ policy. No matter what the child has done. From throwing chairs, to pushing kids or even staff! The next time we see them we give them the chance to start again. Sometimes it works? Sometimes it doesn’t work but labelling children is not the best way to make them feel positive about themselves x

  5. November 26, 2015 / 7:58 pm

    I completely agree, children need to know that they are much more than a label, we should be teaching them to reach for the stars, not putting them in yet another category. Besides, if the research is based on “who got the least reward stickers” maybe the parents of “Leah” and “James” didn’t feel the need to buy reward stickers as a incentive for being good, because they are already good? Or maybe I am just biased because I have a boy called James 😉

  6. November 28, 2015 / 5:53 am

    I haven’t come across this but how ridiculous and I totally agree, a terrible thing to do. What possible benefit can come from labelling a child as naughty just because of their name! Sometimes when I’m in pre-menstrual I always think Matt is in a bad mood so I keep saying to him ‘why are you in a mood’ and he always answers, ‘I’m not but if you keep telling me I am then it will put me in one’ – so like you said if you are telling children they are naughty then they are more likely to live up to that. I do love the story about you doing those things when you were little though! x

  7. December 1, 2015 / 8:41 am

    SO with you on this! Horrified to hear a friend yesterday describing how she did the Portable North Pole thing online for her kid and set it up to say he’d been NAUGHTY! Ugh. I hate labels at the best of times but threatening no christmas is just not cool. SO with you. xx

  8. December 3, 2015 / 3:17 pm

    Why on earth would you label a child naughty based on their name, that’s insane. Children have varied behaviour depending on different factors.x

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