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!
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