Once upon a time when my kids were little, I heard a theory I have never forgotten. That we should never label our kids as anything. Not even a good girl, not even a sweet boy. Definitely none of the antonym variety. It made me wonder about the effects of what our kids pick up when we think they’re not listening.
“Quiet, Brent, mommy’s on the phone.” To the caller, “You know he always needs attention just like his dad.”
“Oh, don’t mind Sylvia, she was born shy.” *Trying to nudge her from behind her mother’s legs.
“I said put that knife down, we don’t touch dangerous things! Why do you always have to push the limit, Taylor?”
It’s hard being a parent, charged with so much, keeping your little alive and healthy in all manners and now we are supposed to start adding self-control to the mix? Gimme a [email protected] break, already.
I’m exhausted and the last thing I want to do is get vigilant about my behavior.
I get it. But the facts are there. Children who are referred to and labeled turn into children who predictably carry out those labels (at least, in my experience!) When you tell your child she is a drama queen at nighttime, suddenly she’ll be dramatic during all hours of the day. It’s why we need to stop comparing our kids, and I’m not saying I’m perfect. When I slip and talk about one of my kid’s grades in front of the other, it’s because I’m lazy and struggling to explain what I want my child to do! “Get good grades like your brother,” seems to make the most sense and take the least amount of energy.
I have been, if not the black sheep of the family, a very dark shade of gray for a large part of my life. The result of self-labeling has perpetuated, which is what happens when others label you. You give a longevity to the cycle which will continue, so the child skips from hearing these pronouncements about themselves to repeating them as self-talk.
Labels are limiting. Then they limit.
We’ve been to a handful of child psychologists when we felt out of our league and it was helpful to learn the ways in which we needed to change talking about our children. It boils down to what you might suspect: if you want to address a worrisome situation, talk about the behavior and how it makes you feel and why the behavior is not something that your child should repeat. We have a tendency to call a child lazy when they refuse to put down their game controllers and come to the table, but this is a disservice to your child who isn’t lazy, maybe their behavior is, but they aren’t.
Behavior is much easier to change than labels—which become embedded and eventually seen as truth.
If you do talk about your child in ways you suspect aren’t helpful, don’t worry. We’ve all done it. Even the parent who makes Teddy bear pancakes (although they would never admit it). You simply watch yourself, you stop and issue a correction to your child and tell them they are not the label you just declared, but their behavior is, and you would like them to work on making better decisions. Parenting is an exercise in trying harder every single day and cherishing those breathtaking moments when you get it right. When you initiate positive self-talk and eradicate labels you give your child tools for self-esteem on which to build.
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