Labeling is a tricky thing. People do it without blinking or thinking.
She’s quiet so she probably wouldn’t want to come to my party.
He’s a computer geek so he most likely won’t want to shoot some hoops.
She’s rich and keeps to herself so she’s probably a snob.
He’s strong and talented, so he’s probably full of himself.
Quite honestly, sometimes labeling is just an easy way for us to categorize people. But the problem comes when we refuse to let them out of the box we’ve put them in.
Parents are especially guilty of this. For instance, how do you describe your kids when someone asks? Do you say they are good students, skilled athletes or talented musicians?
What if, instead, your first answer when someone asked that question was: she’s a kind, compassionate, outgoing girl who knows how to make me laugh?
What’s the difference between that response and the first responses? Simply this: the first answers focus on what a child does, and the second on who she is.
Throughout 28 years of parenting, I’ve been reminded over and over that as soon as I put a label on one of my kids–box them in so to speak–he or she usually surprised me by exploding out of that label and doing something entirely new.
My youngest daughter has never been a runner and in years past, I’d always put her in the box of “doesn’t like to run.” Well, guess what? Next month, she’s running in her first half-marathon! When she first told me she was going to do it, I almost laughed. Really? You hate running!
You see, the problem with labels is that they are often subtle. They may not even be mean or destructive, but they still can confine.
This is my daughter; she’s pitcher for her team. What if she decides not to pitch or play any more? Does she think you will be less proud of her? Alternate response: this is my daughter, she’s a hard worker, I love to watch her play.
This is my son; he was valedictorian of his class and he’s got an academic scholarship to college. What if he goes to college and struggles with his grades, does he worry that he will displease you? Alternate response: this is my son, he worked hard in school, it paid off and I’m proud that he’s following his dream.
Often, in conversation, folks will ask questions that will allow you to explain more: Oh really, what position does your daughter play? OR That’s awesome! What are his plans now that he’s graduated?
Do you see the difference? It’s not that we never tell about the good things our kids do, it’s that our description of them is not initially based on their performance, but on who they are. Further conversation will most likely provide opportunities for them to learn more. And young ears listening nearby will know that you value them for who they are, not just for what they can do!