Check the Label on Your Child

As promised in my When NOT to Apologize to Your Kids blog last week, I wanted to touch on “labels.”

We all carry many labels. I’ll use my husband as an example:

  • Husband
  • Father
  • Son
  • Grandfather
  • Handyman

Those are the some of the obvious labels he wears during his day-to-day, but we are all given labels by those around us too. A few I give him are:

  • Trustworthy
  • Honest
  • Silver Fox
  • Creative
  • Intelligent
  • Gorgeous
  • My Little Shopper (yes, he does all the shopping for our household)

You can probably tell, that I’m a big fan of my husband’s… but what if I wasn’t? What if our marriage/relationship wasn’t going so well? Maybe I’d label him with words like:

  • Loser
  • Liar
  • Asshole
  • Idiot
  • Useless

Would I verbalize those things, or just let them eat away at my insides? I can tell you honestly that I uttered those words to more than one person, on more than one occasion, during my first two marriages. I’ve grown a lot since then, and am also in a healthy relationship, so husband/ex-husband bashing is not what this is about—this is about the labels we give our children.

Here are some negative labels I’ve heard people tag their children with (and have subsequently personally witnessed those children become):

  • Fat
  • Stupid
  • Lazy
  • Hyper
  • Shy
  • Irresponsible

On the flip-side, here are some words I used to label my daughter when she was growing up:

  • Smart
  • Winner
  • Considerate
  • Caring
  • Generous

Did I have labels for some of her less-desirable personality traits? Of course! Did I label her with them aloud? Of course NOT!

A young girl I know (around my daughter’s age) was always told she was “shy.” To this day, in her mid-twenties, that girl is still shy and awkward. I wonder how she would have turned out, had they labeled her with a positive tag instead.

I remember one occasion at the supermarket, when my daughter was about 4-years old, a stranger tried to talk to her. She quickly darted behind me and put her head up my butt (you parents know what I’m talking about). The stranger then said, “Oh, is she shy?” To which I replied, “No she’s Daniella. She just doesn’t want to talk to you.”

Maybe my response was a little curt, but I was a young mom, and lacked tact during the best of times. Now, when I faced with the same question about my young granddaughter, my reply is, “No. She’s at a discerning age, and is selective when dealing with people she doesn’t know.”

I do NOT want a “shy” granddaughter. I want a strong and confident (yet respectful) granddaughter who will not allow people to leave footprints on her back. In an increasingly narcissistic and judgemental world (where nothing is private or sacred anymore), our job as parents (or grandparents) has never been more important.

Every parent is guilty of letting a negative comment slip out towards their child—whether unintentional or not. What you do after that “slip” is what makes or breaks that child.

My granddaughter is my next example. She has the most interesting hair at the moment. Honestly, it looks like a bad toupee on an old man in denial of his baldness. The top is fine and straight, but at the base of her skull, it is short and curly. Then there are the two “rat tails” growing near each of her ears. As adorable as she is, her hair is a complete “hot mess” right now. That term slipped out on more than one occasion by me and at least one other person. It’s when I heard the other person say it a few days ago, I realized we needed to nip it in the bud. She’s too young to understand most humor (or any sarcasm), so it’s very important that we keep comments like that to ourselves so we don’t damage her tender psyche.

Not only can negative labels damage a child, but misguided positive ones can actually be worse.


Mayo Clinic describes Narcissistic Personality Disorder as:

“Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse

What does that mean? In layman’s terms: The more smoke you blow up your kid’s skirt, the more skewed their perception of themselves will be. It’s okay to bolster their confidence, but do so based on reality, not dangerous comments like:

  • “You’re the best swimmer on your team. Those other kids should take lessons from you!”
  • “No one in your class can paint nearly as well as you.”
  • “You are the smartest kid in your entire class. They could all learn something from you.”

As parents, our job is to empower our children to hone their strengths and diminish unnecessary weaknesses or bad habits. So let’s use those three damaging positive comments and put a different spin on them.

  • “I’m so impressed by what a strong swimmer you have become. You have been working so hard, and I’m really proud of you.”
  • “I love your painting! I look forward to seeing what other creations you bring home.”
  • “I am really proud of how hard you are working at school. Keep up the good work!”

There’s something else you can add to those kudos though—dialogue with your child. Ask your child how they feel about their accomplishments (or failures). Let them lead the dialogue so that you can support them how they need to be supported.

I’m sure we’d all love to see our children become Olympians or Nobel Peace Prize winners, but that’s not realistic. So, while your child is still discovering who they are destined to be, don’t sully their psyche with damaging labels—use supportive labels to help lead them towards uncovering their passions and strengths.

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