If We Label Kids, Will They Change?

I recently had lunch with a parent who was complaining about another mom who labels her own child as “shy,” “artistic” “devlish” – and a whole host of other descriptions. Until this conversation, I hadn’t put much thought into labeling. In fact, it might have been one of the few things I hadn’t been worried about. My worry list already seemed quite full.

Then this morning, two things happened. My 5-year-old daughter started eating eggs on her own and my 7-year-old started playing pirates with my two-year-old. In my home this was BIG NEWS. My picky (there’s that labeling problem) eater was enjoying a new food and my logical, practical (labels!) 7-year-old was breaking through her self-induced “I hate imaginary play” mandate to enjoy a game of make believe outside with her brother.

In that moment I felt a surge of understanding about labeling and why my friend felt so strongly about it. If I hadn’t continued to expose my five-year-old to eggs or worse, if I had closed the book on eggs as in, “My child doesn’t eat eggs,” she might not have tried them again. Ever.

If I had enhanced my older daughter’s self-labeling; if she overheard me talking to others about her dislike of imaginary play, she might have felt compelled to continue to live up to that label.

Instead, both of my daughters had changed their preferences right before my eyes. That is the thing about kids; they are constantly changing. And this is why we have to be careful about labeling behaviors or tastes that will naturally change.

Now, I am not only avoiding labels, I am working on my reactions. Because if I make a big deal of the eggs or get too excited about the pirates, my children could easily retreat and the changes could disappear at the speed of change in an instant.

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