Labels. We all are labeled by the roles we play or how others perceive us.
On the day we are born, the labeling begins.
“He looks just like his daddy. She’s an angel. He’s a handful. She’s fussy. He’s scatterbrained. She has no patience. He’s greedy.”
Names and adjectives are used to describe children and tend to reinforce roles that become difficult for our children to get out of.
Joey, whose mother tells him almost everyday that he’d lose his head if it weren’t attached, sees himself as forgetful. The ten or twenty responsible and attentive actions Joey performs each day are never mentioned. Joey’s mother makes forgetting to take out the garbage into a national incident. Joey sees himself as an “air-brain” and the self-fulfilling prophecy begins.
How we view our children can influence the way they see themselves and can affect their behavior.
Mysteriously, whether we are seen in a positive or negative light, we can be cast in a lifetime role that may be very difficult to change.
- The good big brother may never be able to express anger or set personal limits on others’ requirements from him.
- The temperamental little sister may always get her way by pouting, even when she’s 45 years old.
- The humorous child or class clown may never learn how to express painful feelings or ask for emotional support.
- The popular child may not develop the backbone to take an opposing view or stand up for his or her rights.
Take a few minutes and think if there is a role into which your child may have been cast, either at home or school, by friends or relatives.
- What are those roles?
- What are the positive aspects of the role?
- How would you like your child to think of him or herself?
(For example capable, responsible, persistent, courageous, abilities to work with others, etc.)
The challenge is to find situations where your child can begin to see him or herself possessing these qualities.
Some of the labels our children may be combating follow:
We need to look at opportunities for our children to see themselves differently.
For our children who are forgetful, we need to remind them of the times they do remember things. If Joey’s mother had approached Joey’s missed chores with a comment like this: “Joey, you are usually so responsible and remember to do your chores. The garbage didn’t get taken out to the curb this morning. I’m sure you’ll remember next week.”…how do you think that would affect Joey’s air-brained self-perception?
For the children who are labeled as “good”, we need to help them learn that that are loved unconditionally and that our love is not based on their behavior. Straight–A students may become unwilling to explore new intellectual territory or put time into relationships for fear of losing their “perfect” academic record. Children who are labeled as good have self-perception challenges and may suppress anger, disappointment, frustration and fear in order to retain their tag of being good, happy, or helpful.
Sarah was an even-tempered ten-year-old. Three of her friends did not show up for her birthday party, but Sarah seemed to take it all in stride and had a good time. After the party, instead of her usual compliment to Sarah of “You handled that situation so maturely,” Sarah’s mom decided to help Sarah see herself differently.
“You must have been really upset that your friends didn’t show up or call. It must have taken a lot of self-control to keep smiling and make sure that your party was fun for everyone.”
“Yeah, it really hurt that they didn’t call. I think they are the rudest friends a girl could have,” Sarah said through her sobs.
Sarah’s mom helped Sarah step out of the role of “mature” to be able to express anger, disappointment and frustration, along with the fear of losing friends. Sarah learned that it was okay to act like she was ten-years-old, and Mom would still love her.
Don’t underestimate the power of your words on a child’s life.
Maren, your words are so true for our children as well as for us. Good time to reflect for us all.
It is freeing for us adults, too, when we can step out of our different roles. At least for me!
Thank you so much for all of your articles. Especially, I would like to thank you for writing this one. My son gets called “stupid” at school and it breaks his (and my) heart. Your article has shown me how to get that self perception out of his head by using carefully shared words. I always like your articles that give examples of how something might be relayed to a child! Thanks again.
It take most of us many years, perhaps into our 40’s, to truly internalize that the only person’s opinion about us that counts is our own.
I think it would be so helpful to our children for the long-term if we could help them learn to strengthen their strengths and bolster their weaknesses, and focus on character building.
You might enjoy the Kids Talk Positive Psychology Series.
Thanks for sharing.