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The Trouble with Labels

The Trouble with Labels (and how to avoid them) | mostly mindful mommyQuick, think of 3 words used to describe you as a child. Even if all 3 are positive, they may have affected you more than you know.

HOW WE ARE

When we label our children, we’re telling them who we expect them to be. They may feel they don’t have permission to not meet those expectations. Have you ever said any of these things?

“You’re such a chatterbox, why so quiet today?”

“You sure are serious today. That’s not like you.”

“I know that’s not really your thing.”

You may be thinking to yourself “Okay, I may label my children, but I don’t actually say it out loud so it doesn’t count.”

But it does.

Can you honestly say that you’ve never avoided an activity because it might be too overwhelming for your “shy” child? It might have been something they would’ve enjoyed! Or told another they should be performing because they’re so “outgoing”? Perhaps they are extroverted in some situations, but not onstage.

Labels are limiting. We should recognize our children’s strengths and temperaments, but we must also recognize their ability to exhibit any behavior. For every label you can place on your child, there have been moments in their life when they have embodied a label that is completely opposed to it. Probably even more than you realize, because once we’ve put someone in a box we tend to keep them there despite evidence to the contrary.

So what’s a mother to do?

Any time you find yourself labeling your child, think of a time when they could not have been described that way. This will help you to recognize the temporary nature of labels and see your child for the multi-faceted being that they are. Then give them the freedom to be it!

To frame it another way, what if you were labeled as a “perfect” mother? You know, the one who is so “organized” and “together.” You’d probably feel pretty stressed out about having any less-than-perfect moments, right? Yikes. I’ll take seeing me for me over that impossible ideal any day.

WHAT WE DO

When I was younger, I loved to make art. Sure, tons of kids were better at it than I was, but I didn’t care because it was fun. Fast-forward to the 6th grade: there was a boy in my class named Connor, and he was “the artist.” Clearly I shouldn’t bother making art, because there can only be one, right? Not that it mattered anyway, because I was “the smart one.”

Of course everyone who praised my academic success by telling me I was smart was well-intentioned. But what I heard was that I needed to concentrate on what I was good at (academics), rather than on something I wasn’t so good at. No one was praising me for being creative, they were telling me I was smart.

So what could you say instead?

Instead of “You’re so smart!” say “Good job! I know you studied hard for that test.”

Instead of “Of course you made a nice painting, you’re naturally creative!” say “Wow, I bet it was really different working with paint since you usually draw. That looks great!”

Instead of “Great game, you’re so athletic!” say “You played great today! I bet you’ve been working hard at practice.”

The first statement implies that we have certain talents in life that come easy to us. The downside is when your child encounters something they don’t immediately excel in, they’re likely to give it up and go back to what’s comfortable to them. This is called a fixed mindset. By changing a just a few words you instead communicate to your child they’re capable of learning anything they wish to if they’re willing to put in the work (i.e. a growth mindset).

When we become mindful of how we’re labeling our children, we can stop. When we stop, they can begin to comprehend how unlimited their potential really is. They’ll recognize their ability to learn and pursue the things that interest them. Ditching labels won’t just expand their world, but yours as well!

Are you labeling your loved ones, or yourself? Have you had an experience where you’ve transcended labels others have given you? I want to hear about it in the comments below!

The Trouble with Labels (and how to avoid them) | mostly mindful mommy
okay, maybe some labels are appropriate
 



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22 thoughts on “The Trouble with Labels

  1. Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom says:

    As a former early childhood educator, my colleagues and I used to discuss labels all the time. From a young age, we are taught that we need to sort and classify things in order to make sense of the world. This, however, does not apply to people. Yet, because we are conditioned to classify, labeling people becomes an ingrained habit.

    Wonderful post and such an important reminder.

    Thanks for sharing.

    xoxo

    Reply
    • the mostly mindful mommy says:

      It is so ingrained in us, because instant categorization of other people and things is good for survival! Unfortunately, in the same way that we now feel fight/flight level stressors over daily triggers that aren’t as life threatening as tigers, we must become conscious of them so we can change our mindsets. So good to hear that teachers are discussing these things and I hope that more people who don’t have the same background become more aware of it! Thanks for reading, and for hosting the #SHINE blog hop!

      Reply
  2. marina says:

    I have definitely been a labeler in the past. Since starting meditation in January I have become more aware of how I speak and think about my 2 girls. I just finished reading “How to Talk to Kids So Kids Will Listen…” and the chapter on Freeing Children from Playing Roles is a good one. In order to avoid creating a self-fulfilling prophecy with our own child we have to change the story we tell ourselves about said child. Also another tip to give our kids some protection from the labels that others place on them were the words “when she’s ready”. Instead of blindly going along with someone else’s description of your child, you can change the story to she’ll do xyz “when she’s ready”. Great post!

    Reply
    • the mostly mindful mommy says:

      I’m glad to hear that you’re finding it easier to be mindful since beginning your meditation practice! I LOVE that book. I’m looking forward to rereading it over the years and taking different things away from it! That’s a wonderful tip you shared as well, it’s all too easy to get caught up in expectations. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  3. Liz Joiner says:

    This a great post. I was labeled as the smart one as well, and let me tell you, I’ve made some very dumb mistakes as well. I was never the “athletic” one in school despite running cross country, track and playing soccer because I had my head in my books too much.  I hope that I don’t label my child too much.

    liz @ <a href=http://www.sundayswithsophie.com/>sundays with sophie</a>

    Reply
  4. Stacey says:

    Good points, but I do think it’s wise to be aware of your kid’s tendencies. My oldest is only 2.5 but very cautious and shy. We have stopped attending many events with him because being around a lot of people is so stressful that it causes him problems for a few days after the event. However, I also know that certain things are likely to make it so he doesn’t notice the other people, like helicopters or firetrucks, two events we have attended lately.

    Reply
  5. ingrid says:

    Love this. I certainly wish people had been “mindful” of this when I was a child. Labled smart, I loved being smart. But it created a lot of anxiety to always be perfect. When it turned out I was not necessarily the athlete my parents were, the label clumsy was quickly attached – and I swallowed it, hook ,line and sinker. I wasn’t athletic, i was just smart, so why even try. Not until my late 20’s did i discover I liked and was good at floor exercises, swimming and biking. Who knew? So I am really glad
    to read this and hope many people read it and take it to heart. Wonderful words!

    Reply
  6. Madeline says:

    I’m trying to think now if I do label my children or not, it’s definitely something I’ll be more aware of having read this, so thank you.  x

    Reply
  7. Tiffany | A Touch of Grace says:

    Interesting post.  It’s funny how things we say to our kids, even just in passing and without thinking about it, are labels.  Definitely gives me something to think about what I say to my daughter.

    Thanks for sharing on the Shine Blog Hop!

    Reply
  8. Linda Hobbis says:

    This is so true and I will be more thoughtful about how I describe the children’s behaviour.  Trouble is it’s so easy to do in the heat of the moment without thinking!  #weekendbloghop

    Reply
    • the mostly mindful mommy says:

      You’re completely right, Linda! Developing the ability to stay aware in the moment so we are not reacting to our children but responding consciously is the most difficult part. The good news is that with practice it will become easier!

      Reply
  9. Saira says:

    Thanks for your post. I was glad to find you at the Mom Blog Party on MomResource.com. Love your book recommendation too Marina – I’m going to look into that one.

    Reply
    • the mostly mindful mommy says:

      I hope you do, Saira! It’s my favorite patenting book I’ve read yet. Thanks for hosting!!

      Reply
  10. Pingback: SHINE Blog Hop #49 - The Deliberate Mom

  11. Vanessa says:

    Great post and so very true! I am/You are …  two very powerful words – we should use them with great caution. Stopped by on the #WeekendBlogHop :)

    Reply
  12. Miranda says:

    I honestly hadn’t thought too much about positive labels before. I will say that I am definitely guilty of this…I call my 5 year old my little artist, my 7 year old is the book worm, and my 3 year old is so funny. I know they enjoy their labels, but I do wonder if maybe they don’t try to move beyond them because that is just “who they are .” Thank you for giving me something to think about this morning.

    Reply
  13. Trista, Domesticated Momster says:

    I really try so hard to let my kids be who they want to be which is hard when my 4 year old wants to wear jeans and a long sleeved shirt and it’s 90*F outside.  I let them make messes cause I know they are having fun and just being kids.  I was limited on certain parts of the house I could even be in when I was a kid so I try to let my kids just be silly kids sometimes.  Thanks for sharing this with #mosmterslink.

    Reply
  14. Alice Megan says:

    Working in a school I find myself so guilty of doing this at times, we’ll pair people up who’s personalities are opposite to balance it out but in order to do that we obviously do a degree of labelling.

    Reply
  15. Angela @ Setting My Intention says:

    So true. I wrote a post about how I kept telling myself I was “not a runner” and so I never ran. Running is actually a newfound joy in my 40s!

    Reply
    • the mostly mindful mommy says:

      I tell myself something like that, except it is more specific and true: “I hate running” lol! I know exactly what you’re talking about though, I began taking ballet classes at 27 and it wasn’t until somewhat recently that when someone would discover this and ask “Oh, so you’re a dancer?” that I could answer “Yes!”. I didn’t feel I was a dancer, even though I took class, practiced constantly, and was even learning to dance en pointe! It’s an interesting process when we begin to examine and break down old beliefs about ourselves!

      Reply

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