Do you ever call your children Drama Queen or Trouble-Maker as a joke or maybe when you are really frustrated with them? What about calling them Disorganized, Messy, Shy, Hyper or Aggressive here and there? If so, I invite you to create a “label-free world” starting by declaring a battle against negatively labeling your children or somebody else’s. The reason behind this invitation is that our children might become who, we parents, teachers and caregivers, say they are or who they hear us saying that they are. But why not offer our kids opportunities to be different than what we perceive them to be? They might prove us very wrong.
With this in mind, we can choose different words when describing our children. Instead of a Drama-Queen daughter, we might say “my daughter is still learning how to deal with her emotions in face of disappointments.” And add to it how we are helping her to succeed. What about the Trouble-Maker in our kids’ class? He is a very active, curious boy who is willing to explore everything around him. The Messy kid? Can we teach him some organization skills instead of calling him disorganized or messy? I know that avoiding labeling might take more effort and time from parents, teachers and caregivers, but it also means to keep our children away from the limitations or negative impacts of labels.
I still remember the day I was labeled as Dumb by my oldest brother. I was around 6 years old, struggling with Math, so I asked for help. After failing to learn what my brother was trying to teach me, he used a label and repeated Dumb over the years. I am sure it was never his intention but that day “I hate Math” started to grow inside me. Am I trying to say I could have been a Mathematician if I was never labeled? Probably not! I strongly believe though that if negatively labeling doesn’t harm, it doesn’t do any good either.
“He is Mean. We call him Trouble-Maker” said a young caregiver the other day referring to a boy who threw my son’s pool noodle over the fence. I wished that kid was never labeled. I wished I told him “Don’t believe her. I am sure you can make it right. Please, go get that pool noodle and give it back to my son.”
I didn’t stand for him, but I have been doing it for my children. Last year, for example, at the first school parents-teacher conference, my daughter was labeled Shy and Not Social by her teacher. Right away, I requested her to stay away from labels. Request accepted, we agreed that at that moment in time my daughter preferred to play independently and could take some time to warm-up to people or participate in group activities.
I keep thinking though how it would be if from that time on I accepted my daughter as a “Shy Girl”. What about if I kept repeating out-loud to her and my friends that she is Shy every time she hid behind me when we first arrived at someone’s house or when she hid as friends arrived for a playdate? What about if I told her teacher that she is Shy the first day of VPK when she chose not to dance with her classmates? I am sure I would have never offered her opportunities to be different than what important people in her life, including me, perceived her to be.
Last week, during a local concert for children, the singer asked the kids what was their favorite animal. She stood up, raised her hand and proudly answered on microphone: a horse. On that same day, she stood by the singer’s side singing and dancing in front of dozens of people. Shy?
Just like my daughter, most children are very flexible, resilient, and open to changes at their own pace. With the right opportunities, they can be very different than what we perceive them to be. So, again, I invite you to stop limiting your children with negative labeling and ask the people in your community to do the same.