When he made a mistake in class he learned of the power labels had on his life.
In one motion I shove my classmate across the room. He tumbles over some chairs and lands on his ass. I taunt him to stand up and fight. He looks stunned as I hop around waiting to pounce. My temper is so hot that I forget I’m surrounded by shocked classmates entering the room while my teacher stares in wonder.
“What’s going on!” She yells.
With the sound of her voice I snap out of it and quickly calm down. I don’t know what to say so I keep my mouth shut. She looks at me in disbelief and turns to the classmate I attacked and says, “What did you do to Keola?!”
She takes a minute to lecture him about picking on me and sits us both down with a, “Now I don’t want to hear a peep from either of you.”
Why did I act out violently?
I had just been slapped hard on the back, which stung but it didn’t warrant the reaction I delivered. In reality I was in a bad mood so the violence wasn’t due to the action of my classmate but more to do with what was going on at home. Now the reason why I reacted is not the focus of this article instead I want to reflect on the response of the teacher because her response is an important lesson that parents need to realize about labels.
How do labels affect the way we treat our children?
For many of us we’ve grown up with a label from our parents and even though these labels are at times given with little thought they have long lasting impact on our children. Labels tell children who they are and how they are expected to act. For example, I was always the good kid, which was a label I carried in every aspect of my life. I tried my best to live up to my label, which would cause me great emotional distress and lead me down a path toward depression.
Being the good kid also provided a blanket of protection because everyone assumed the best from me. This is the reason why my violent outburst with my classmate in front of the teacher caused her to scold my victim. She couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that I could have done something wrong. Her reality was being threatened so she told herself that I must have done it for a good reason. She made sense of my actions to fit her label for me.
Now imagine if I was given a different label. What if that label was trouble maker? How do you think the teacher would have reacted to the situation? She certainly wouldn’t defend me and most likely she’d send me to the principle’s office for discipline. Her belief in me would have been confirmed so she’d naturally discipline me without any concern that I had a legitimate reason.
Labels have power and so we need to take it seriously. When we talk about our children we need to be thoughtful in how we describe them. We need to be wary about using terms such as, “She’s the smart one” or “He’s the nice kid”. Even when those labels are positive we need to remember our children are multifaceted beings. They will sometimes do things that contradicts their label. Giving them a black and white label can cause stress for them if they can’t live up to the positive label given. On the other hand, giving our children a negative label such as “She’s always lying” or “He’s not that bright” can stop our children from trying to improve their life because why should they when you already see them as a bad person.
The truth is we are more then one label. If a good kid like myself had the power to be mean and cruel why can’t a trouble maker find it in themselves to be compassionate. If we give our children a realistic and varied view about themselves they will be better for it. They’ll have the power to change and break through barriers that society will give them because of their label. Let’s help make our children resilient and give them a future with abundant possibilities and not one based on a label.
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