Labeling a child is an easy thing to do. I recently asked on social media, “What label was put on you as a child that you still remember today?” My feed was quickly filled with labels like motor mouth, sissy, pesty, shy, drama queen, bossy, hypochondriac, idiot, four eyes, too much, bulldog jaws, nerd, unworthy, just like your mom, lazy, short.
I think most of us can quickly remember a label that hurt, shaped, or discouraged us as children. Yet, it is so easy when we are triggered and say things we later regret, which can often include labeling our kids. But we must find a better way. Labeling our child’s character, behavior, or appearance impacts how we view and treat them, and more importantly, how they view and treat themselves. But there is a better way that begins and ends with taking a deep breath and thinking before you label. Here are 3 ways to stop labeling your child.
1. Be careful with introductions.
When my kids were younger, I was often surprised by how many dads would introduce their children to me with a name and a label.
Even positive labels can limit potential and stereotype your child. Avoid saying things like,
“This is my daughter Hannah. She is shy.”
“This is my son, Jackson. He is the athlete in the family.”
“This is my daughter, Martica. She is my bookworm.”
“This is my son, Mario. He’s a mess.”
2. Be careful with what your kids overhear.
To avoid labeling your child, a good rule of thumb is to imagine they are always in earshot. Most of us can remember as children overhearing hurtful words that were never meant to reach our ears. A friend told me he overheard his dad telling his mom that he would never amount to anything. He still lives with the pain of that label decades later.
3. Be careful how you label your kid in your own mind.
Often our brains play the game of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of the beliefs one already holds. More simply put, you find what you are looking for. This happens as dads when we assign negative labels to our kids’ words and actions. If I label my child as lazy, I will look for the evidence to back that up and only see her napping on the couch, and NOT see her working on homework and practicing sports.
Let’s be wise, careful, and avoid labeling our kids, because labels are sticky and hard to remove.
Sound off: What label did someone put on you as a child?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Is there any label I have put on you that hurts your heart?”