When my daughter’s vacation bible school leader approached me to say that she was the smartest kid in her class, my immediate response was, “That’s funny—her brother’s the smart one.” It took just a second for me to realize how ridiculous my statement was. It’s so easy to label our children: the brain, the athlete, the artist, etc. But, sometimes our attempts to classify limits them or discourages them. A mom I heard about was afraid to let her intelligence show in her family because her older sister was the “academic one.”
There are many downsides to labeling people, but it is especially hurtful to kids. Kids hang onto every word their moms say. Consequently, when we label our children, they often feel like they can’t break out of that label. So, if you tell your child that he’s this or that, he’s going to take it to heart, even if you’re just making a casual observation. Here are 5 ways labeling hurts our children.
1. They hear us label others, but not them.
Moms usually mean no harm when they do this, but it can stigmatize a sensitive child. You’re talking about what a great job one of your kids is doing in school. “She is doing so well,” you say. “She got another awesome grade on her test. She is just really smart.” As your other child listens, they infer that they are not the smart one.
2. We call them a name, they hear a label.
This is unintentional labeling. Your kids are all outside playing when they start having races in the backyard. One of your kids loses every time. You mean no harm, and your child is a good sport, so you say, “Hey, Slowpoke! You look like a turtle out there!” Of course, you meant it all in fun, but your child has just heard a label he’ll likely remember. If you’ve done this before, or the next time you do it, apologize right away and reassure your child that he is not the label.
3. You label in anger.
Even the most caring mom can snap and say something she shouldn’t. You’re tired, you’re frustrated, and you’re tired of seeing your child’s room look like a disaster area. So the words come flying out of your mouth, “This room is disgusting! You are so lazy!” Your child’s room may be a mess. Your child may have lazy tendencies, but bringing up those challenges in anger is a negative approach.
4. You put your labels on them.
One mom told her son, “Oh, you have a bad memory, just like me.” That child went through college and medical school thinking he had a poor memory, even though reality showed he didn’t. So when you make an observation about yourself, don’t inadvertently lump them in with you.
5. Your labels feel like pressure.
You may think that labeling your child as the best student in his class, or the fastest runner on his team might motivate him, but it can actually feel like pressure. What if he gets a bad grade or isn’t the fastest runner? Labeling him as such sets him up to feel like he’s let you down when he doesn’t live up to your label.
You may think that labeling your child as the best student in his class, or the fastest runner on his team might motivate him, but it can actually feel like pressure.
Have you been labeling your children?