It is natural to have thoughts about WHO our child is from a very young age. These thoughts often come from our past experiences, how we view ourselves, and our expectations of our child. If we are not careful, these thoughts turn into labels and can be damaging to our children and our relationships with them.

There is a difference between labeling a child and labeling the child’s behavior. This difference is subtle in its wording, but dramatic in our thoughts, feelings, and actions toward our child. When we label our child, it can be harmful, whereas when we label our child’s behavior it can be constructive. Labeling our child means using words that describe our child’s personality, like “you are forgetful”, “my child is shy”, or “he is bossy”. However, when we use verbiage like “you forgot your backpack”, “my child didn’t want to talk”, or “he talked out of turn”, we are labeling our child’s behavior or actions. The first example creates expectations in the child’s mind of who he is to be, whereas the second example states what the child did.

Results of labeling our child?

  1. Labeling determines how we view our child: How we refer to our child can become a habit and ultimately become who our child is in our eyes, instead of how they are behaving at the time. It is harder to correct behavior if we have labeled our child as a certain kind of person. For example, if your child is labeled as a “bully”, instead of “saying mean things is not okay”, then he may continue to be unkind to those around him. The child knows how you feel about him and ultimately gets the attitude “Why even bother to change”.
  2. Labeling determines how our child views himself: Our child can sense how others feel about him and often hear what we say. Our child will pick up on these interactions, however small, and come to believe what he hears and feels. He will ultimately behave and act in a manner to fulfill these expectations.
  3. Labeling determines how other people view our child: Other people see our child as the label assigned to him, even after the child has outgrown a certain stage in life, he may be stuck with a certain label from his past. Remember, others will treat your child in accordance to how you label him and how you treat him.

Avoid the “Labeling trap”

Make positive changes and improve your relationship with your child by avoiding negative labels. Be conscious of this process by working through the following 4 steps to avoid the labeling trap:

  1. Change your thoughts: Your thoughts are where it all starts. Reflect on how you view your child and the thoughts you have about him on a regular basis. Notice how these thoughts effect your interactions with your child. Ask yourself if these thoughts help you feel closer to your child. Are the thoughts you have about your child helpful or hurtful? Example: Your thought might be “my child is lazy”. Can you change that thought? How about thinking instead, “my child is learning to work”.
  2. Change your feelings: Your thoughts are directly linked to the feelings you have about your child. Examples of feelings we might have toward our child include: loving, irritated, empathetic, compassionate, angry, etc. Example: If your thought is “my child is lazy”, you might have feelings of irritation. However, if your thought is, “my child is still learning to work” you could more easily have feelings of empathy.
  3. Change your actions: The way you feel about a situation is ultimately how you will show up. Your feelings inwardly create your actions outwardly. Example: The feeling of irritation will cause you to be less patient with your child. Whereas if you feel empathetic you will act much more patient.
  4. Change your results: The overall outcome, our relationship with our child, is what is ultimately most important. Example: If you are impatient, the result will be that your child will be defensive and not want to be around you. However, if you interact with your child in a patient way, he will feel safer and more comfortable with you. Because you have feelings of empathy you will be able to enjoy your child more.

The guidelines above will help change negative labeling, focus on your child’s behaviors rather than personality traits, and create stronger, more positive relationships that will last a lifetime. It takes a conscious effort, but is worth the work!