I’m really sensitive to putting labels on kids. I don’t use the word “never” very often, but when it comes to labels, I feel strongly enough to say it. Make it your goal to never label your children. Never use a single word, a single personality trait, to describe the vast person that your child is… especially when they are within earshot.
She’s just really shy. He’s so hyper! She’s so mean. He’s such a teacher’s pet. She’s out of control. He isn’t very good at math. She doesn’t like reading. He’s a picky eater.
I know it's hard. Especially on those days where we just need to vent to another adult about our kids' behavior. I've been there. And I've made mistakes about how I've talked about my kids in front of them. And regretted it.
All of these little comments, for better or worse, become a part of our children’s psyches. Kids are just like the rest of us; they’re trying to figure out who they are, how they fit into the big world around them, and how to be truly seen and accepted by everyone around them. Our children’s labeled personality traits become who they are. I believe labels are limiting and potentially damaging to the people that our children become.
And the research proves this to be true. Even with positive labels! Remember the negative affects of telling your child they're smart?
As passionately as I feel about never labeling children, and as hard as I'm working to never label my children, there is one type of label that is an exception to my “Never label children!” rule.
I think you should constantly label your child as specialists. You should constantly empower them to realize that they are playing and doing work that is preparing them for future roles they can, and will, fill.
Our children are Mathematicians, Readers, Writers, Scientists, Engineers, Historians, Athletes, Artists, Actors, Explorers, Musicians and more. Budding specialists in the world around them. Trying on different roles, to see how they fit, to see what feels right.
As they explore their world and learn, I believe that it’s really important that we label the important work that our children doing, letting them know when they are displaying the traits and behaviors of a content area specialist.
We want to reinforce these behaviors and traits. One way to do this is to give our children a big, important, fancy name for the great learning work that they are doing.
Tell your baby that he's a great reader. As he flips through board books, studying pictures and babbling contentedly, he's a reader and a deep thinker. Explain to him that readers study books carefully. They look closely at pictures, they think about what they see, they talk about what they find.
Tell your 3 year old, constantly pointing out numbers and counting and arranging her toys, that she’s a mathematician. Explain to her that mathematicians love numbers, are great counters, and see math all around them.
Tell your 5 year old, tending to her Milkweed plants in the backyard, she’s a scientist. She’s a botanist when she cares for her plants and a zoologist when she ensures the Monarch caterpillars have enough to eat. Tell her that scientists, botanists and zoologists care for the living things around them. They observe living things and conduct experiments to make discoveries so that plants and animals can thrive. Playing in the leaves is not just playing for our kids. It's important observational work, experiencing textures, learning about the world.
Tell your 8 year old, carefully constructing Lego models that he’s a great mathematician, finding complicated patterns and efficiently organizing his piles of materials. He’s an engineer or an architect, solving problems, building, analyzing and creating plans. Tell him that mathematicians, engineers and architects solve problems that exist in the world around them; they design solutions and construct buildings, cars, planes and more.
Tell your 10 year old daughter, immersed in her school’s study of the solar system and forever hunting for new constellations that she's also a scientist. She’s an astronomer. A potential future astronaut. Tell her that scientists, astronomers and astronauts study the atmosphere just like she does. And that they are constantly asking questions, trying to find new things, making big important discoveries and potentially changing the way we will live in the future.
Your child who loves to hum and play instruments and sing to himself while getting dressed? He's a singer, a musician, possibly even a songwriter if you expose him to this possibility. Your daughter who's forever immersed in an elaborate art project is an artist.
Our children, little people just trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in, need our help. By labeling them with the big, important roles they are exploring and will someday officially fill, we give positive reinforcement to the great learning work they are constantly doing. These labels also open up the world for our kids, sending them the important message that they can be anything that they work towards.
So, today, please label your kids. Just be really, really careful of the type of label.