Labeling – are you familiar with this habit we have as parents in labeling our children. It’s usually done in casual conversation, definitely not meant to be intentionally negative.
“He’s my eater – he’d eat anything you put in front of him – whenever and whatever.”
“Susie’s our talker – never stops even when she’s asleep, we hear her mumbling.”
“Joey’s the clown in the family.”
“Katie’s the serious, studious one – not like her brother who is the wise guy in the family.”
“Come here you little monster – you wild guy – you crazy man!!”
Maybe one of these labels has struck a chord with you – brought back memories of what you were labeled as a kid. During a sibling rivalry class recently, I asked parents what their label was as a child. Did they have one? There was little hesitation. Almost all the parents in the room had a label to share. It stuck with them then and still lingers.
One parent commented, ” I always wanted to be the star athlete but even though I played sports pretty well, that name was reserved for my older brother. My label was the “follower”. I often heard my parents remark that I was the follower – did whatever my older brother and sister did. I didn’t like being thought of as the follower.”
As we talked more, parents recognized how easy it was to get caught in this habit of referring to our children in such defining ways and how that narrow label can become a solid part of who the child thinks he is. Noticing what our children enjoy and like to do and are “naturals” at, can be phrased differently perhaps. “Jan really enjoys playing piano and plays very well” still leaves room for her to try her hand at hockey and not just be ” the musician in the family”. Piano is one thing she loves and does well – but it needn’t define who she is.
There are more negative labels that we should just try to avoid all together.
“He’s my clingy, whiny one.” “Robert is the bossy one in the family.” “Sara is the drama queen. She makes everything into a big deal.” ” Sam is the family delinquent – always in trouble.” “Scott is just a little brat!”
Knowing that our children are listening and taking our comments about them to heart, even when we think they’re not, makes it an opportune time to throw in some curves – say something they don’t expect – express a confidence and description that will make their spirits soar and allow them to think they can be whatever they want to be.
While we’re at it, let’s do the same for ourselves – drop the labels we may still believe and tell ourselves we can be whatever we want to be – star athlete and all!