It is often human nature to label a person according to certain traits. When this happens to a child at a young age, it can affect the way we see the child and the way the child sees himself. Eventually, the child may become trapped in a role.
"She’s such a picky eater. She won’t eat anything I make for her."
"He is so slow. It is impossible for us to ever get ready to go anywhere on time."
"She isn’t very co-ordinated. Sports are not her thing."
"He is so rough. He breaks everything he touches."
After hearing these comments enough, children will begin to believe that these traits are part of who they are, and that they cannot change.
So, the "picky eater" will refuse to try new foods, and the "slow-poke" will never feel the need to hurry. The clumsy girl will avoid sports, and the rough boy will not be concerned if things are damaged in his wake.
While parents may continue to be frustrated, they often make allowances, because they too believe that this is the best their child can do.
Most parents have at one time or another, intentionally or not, labelled their children. What may seem like a harmless comment to a parent can be very hurtful to a child.
If you notice that your child has slipped into a role relating to a specific trait, there are many ways you can help to change the way he views himself.
Let the child overhear you say something positive about her. "You should have seen Emily at soccer tonight. What a great team player she is!"
Model the behaviour you’d like to see. "We have to leave in 20 minutes, so I am going to quickly check that I have everything ready to go. I don’t want to be rushing at the last minute."
Put children in a situation where they can see themselves differently. "Let’s make a plan for our meals for the next three days. We will each think of some things we would like to make, and then we can decide together what to have."
When the child acts according to his old label, state your feelings and/or expectations. "I don’t like to see that you have broken your crayons. Crayons are for colouring, and when you are through colouring you need to put them away."
Labels hold children back, and can make them feel incapable. By removing labels and helping a child feel capable, he is able to develop the self-esteem to take on new challenges and be all that he can be.
Source:"How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk" by Faber & Mazlish. The ‘How to Talk so Kids Will Listen’ program is offered at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, and gives parents practical tips to achieve positive communication within the family. For more information on this or any other program, feel free to call or visit the centre.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers parenting information and support.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 3, 2012