‘Good girl’, ‘bright child’, ‘difficult’, ‘ADD’, ‘ ‘slow’, ‘shy’, ‘lazy’.
The list goes on and on – but what is the impact of the labels we put on our children?
Think about going to the store. You pick up a tin of peas.
What do you expect to get inside?
What you see is what you get – right?
The label on the can refers to what’s on the inside.
The labels we put on children are putting a name on what we see on the outside.
When we label the child we’re naming a type of behaviour that we’re seeing on the outside.
We’re seeing the lazy behaviour, or shy behaviour, or whatever.
And we’re presuming that that’s what’s on the inside.
The label is ignoring all the other wonderful aspects of this child.
The label limits us to seeing just some aspect of our child’s behaviour, as though that is who the child IS.
When we’re labelling children ‘What you see is what you get’ is often the outcome.
We’re putting blinkers on ourselves regarding all this child’s wonderful potential.
And we may well be putting blinkers on the child as to all he is and all he’s capable of becoming – his wonderful potential.
Label a child and he’s likely to live up to your expectations.
Even pet names: ‘My little monster,’ ‘cheeky monkey’, ‘my baby’ can have an alarming way of becoming a self –fulfilling prophecy.
So what’s wrong with positive labels, you may be asking.
We’re still limiting who that child is.
The child who owns the label ‘clever’ may find it difficult to relax, have fun.
He’ll have to be living up to his reputation of always knowing the answer.
And that might mean always having his head in the books.
”Little miss sunshine’ may end up denying her sad feelings, her angry feelings. She may become a people pleaser – because the message she received was that it’s her job to be the sunshine in every situation.
What about ‘good girl’?
Doesn’t every parent want their child to be good?
Well, yes, of course we do.
But stop and think about it.
We use the label ‘good’ when the child is doing what WE want them to do.
Does that mean that they’re ‘bad’ if they’re not complying with us?
When the child’s agenda is at odds with ours, she’s likely to resist or protest.
We might not like that behaviour but what’s it trying to tell us?
If our focus is to raise competent children who have a sense of who they are and where they’re going in life, it’s helpful to resist labels as far as possible.
I was recently at a Parent and Toddler group and watched a four year old carry the plastic cups back to the counter.
Resisting the automatic ‘good girl’ comment, I said, ‘Thank you.’
She came back with two more cups. I said thank you again.
The third time I said, I figured I needed something else to say:
‘You’re picking up the cups and bringing them back for us.’
‘And now you have two more cups!’
‘You’ve picked up all the cups off the tables. That was helpful.’
I had to think harder to find a meaningful response that fitted the unique situation. I also named the impact that this had.
If she hadn’t picked up the cups, that wouldn’t have meant that she wasn’t a ‘good girl’. She might have been tired, or occupied with something else.
Sometimes labels are given because we are seeking to understand some challenge the child is facing.
Perhaps a clinical diagnosis has been given.
This can be very helpful for the parent to have some sense of what challenges they’re facing.
I’m just asking that we bear in mind that this still only describes some aspect of who the child is.
There’s a big difference between saying,
‘My child is dyslexic.’
‘My child has dyslexia.’
The dyslexia (or whatever) is the challenge your child is facing.
It doesn’t define who he is.
Think about the difference between saying,
‘My child has a learning disability.’
‘My child has a learning challenge.’
A disability is something you have to live with.
A challenge is something that the courageous can overcome.
Language can limit.
Or we can choose to use language that affirms and believes in our child’s amazing, unlimited potential
Like the name on the tin, a label is just something that we attach.
It’s something we can also discard.
If we recognise labels that aren’t helpful– we can toss them today.
We can choose to see the incredible richness, the wonder of who our child is and can be.