In the past year i have heard too many stories about the effect of labelling children. Labels like bad, naughty, the smart one, lazy, dumb, stupid, liar, the pretty one, mischievous, dangerous, you don’t listen and many more. These are from parents, teachers, peers and society. Boys hear things like, ‘Boys don’t cry’, ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’, ‘Be a man’. What does this mean to a baby or toddler, when his only means of communication is to cry? Our kids are hearing messages and process these in ways that could be damaging to their self-esteem, confidence and character. They sometimes will attempt to change who they are because of what they hear. Children hear things such as, ‘my child is so shy, i hope she doesn’t get walked all over’, and she interprets it as being shy is bad and she must change, so she feels she has to change and be more like the person who appears confident and liked. She tries to be more outgoing and becomes something she is not. The boy hears things like, ‘He is so weak and too nice, i want him to be more manly’. He interprets this to mean that men are not meant to be ‘nice’ and being a gentleman and well mannered means weakness and against the ‘man code’. he then changes who he is meant to be and becomes what he feels society expects of him. We live in a society of people whose characters and personality has been moulded and they are not being true to who they are. This can later in life cause damage when they enter into relationships, become employers or are in leadership positions or when they become a parent. Labelling influences the way people see you, labels can put so much pressure on children, it has an impact on how siblings and peers see and treat each other, it can remain with a child forever influencing their entire life.

Labelling causes so much damage to our children and we all do it, without realising it. I have been told of a story where a young boy injured his sister because his parents had been labelling him as the ‘dumb one’ and his sister ‘the clever one’. From a young age the message he received was that his sister was the one they were happy with and he is the one they weren’t happy with. So this developed hatred in him for his sister and he decided to injure her. Luckily she was not badly injured, but the scars were deep for the entire family and they realised they had work to do on themselves and with each other. Some stories do not end so well, ending in children feeling so bad with themselves and unloved that they take their lives. I hear of sensitive children treated like there is something wrong with them by their parents, fathers who cannot cope with sensitive and ‘needy’ boys, children whose lives are disrupted by bitter divorce or death of a parent, children feeling that their home is no longer their home because a parent has remarried, children feeling not good enough because they do not get the grades their parents are happy with, the constant feeling that their grades are all that matters, children feeling disconnected from their parents, the constant comparison with a sibling or friends, some end up taking their lives, some fall into bad groups, some bully others, some develop bad habits of manipulation, people pleasing or causing trouble where they can and others fall into depression, deep sadness and anxiety. Labels in these situations are thrown around like bad, dumb, not good enough, why cant you be like your sister/brother, weak, so sensitive, too needy, spoilt, daft, what is wrong with you, lazy, worthless, and many more.

So what should we do? As parents, teachers and adults we are all trying our best, no one wants the best for our children more than we do, but we need to take a step back and be conscious of what it is we are putting out there and causing sadness in our children. Our words, our actions need to align with our values and our vision as a parent. Let us show them their uniqueness and to see who they really are. Its so easy to label, take our stress out on our kids and fall into practices we have seen used and we are accustomed to, traditional practices. However, we need to be conscious as caregivers and know what it is we are unknowingly doing to our kids. Parenting and caring for children requires consciousness in our presence, in our communications and in our actions. We need to see our kids as individuals with potential and know that our job is to create an environment where they can thrive, to guide them and not make them into clones of each other or clones of ourselves. We need to stop labelling based on our idea of what ‘OUR’ child should be, or what we think society expects. We live in a demanding society and an increasingly demanding world, that requires strength of character, this is what we need to encourage in our kids and not to tear them down. For our children to reach their full potential and come into their own, they must feel free and vulnerable to be who they are at home with us as parents or in the classroom where they spend most of their time. They need to be able to fully engage themselves in life which means they will make mistakes, and we should encourage the mistakes to be made when they are home when they are with us, so we can guide them and teach them skills to overcome mistakes. This can only be done if they feel safe enough to be vulnerable without judgement and criticism. We need to stop the labelling, because that becomes who they think they are. Labels hurts, changes people and causes people not to thrive in life.

As an adult in a child’s life, we are doing our best and are also faced with a lot of stress and demands but we need to do better for our kids.

Stop the labelling and be conscious of your treatment of children in your care, as a parent, a teacher, a relative.


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