I wrote an awesome blog post I couldn’t wait to publish. It was one of those posts where all the words just flowed and I truly felt I had something meaningful to share with you all. Except you won’t get to read a single word because I deleted it.
“Can you read this post and tell me if I’m labeling him too much?” I asked my husband. Even before he answered, I knew in my gut that the post would classify my toddler immediately. I won’t say what I had labeled my toddler (I deleted it for a reason!), but you can use any trait adults often label kids with: outgoing/funny/smart/shy/athletic/artistic/likes math/likes words/(fill in the blank).
Notice that the adjectives I mentioned above (outgoing/funny/etc) aren’t necessarily negative. In fact we often discuss kids in a positive light when we apply labels: “Jane is the artistic one in the family” is usually said to pay a compliment to Jane’s extraordinary artistic talent. How can that possibly be bad for Jane? Let’s take a look…
While Jane may feel pride for being singled out as the artistic one, she’s also likely to narrow down her passions or interests to only the arts, even if other hobbies seem interesting. If she has a sibling who is “the athletic one,” this will further cement her views that she ought to stick to arts since clearly she’s the artistic one while her brother is the athletic one. Similarly, if someone is praised for doing well in English and literature, he may convince himself that he’s terrible with math and numbers. (For some unfortunate reason we divide math and literature and that apparently you can’t be both. I know I fell for this.)
Or let’s say a little girl is labeled as shy. When she doesn’t immediately say “hi” to every stranger in the world, her parents excuse their daughter, “Oh, she’s shy.” Never mind that stranger anxiety is 100% normal and even healthy. So now this little girl grows up thinking she’s the shy one, and should there be an opportunity for her to be more outspoken, she may hesitate a bit.
So back to writing the blog post that branded my toddler too much. And just to make it really obscure, let’s pretend I had labeled him as “blue.” From what I’ve observed, he does seem to show tendencies of being blue as opposed to being green. But there’s a chance that labeling him as blue would change how I act towards and think about him; rather than letting him be, I’ll base my actions and thoughts on these earlier observations. If his own mom already assumes he’s blue, there’s less chance for my toddler to feel free to exhibit whatever characteristics he may actually be.
Or what if I had published that post and family and friends who read this blog may nod their heads and agree, “Yes… LO probably is blue instead of green.” Now, not only does his mom think he’s blue, but people he knows may subconsciously see him as blue and nothing else, already assuming these traits are set in stone.
Perhaps the biggest reason I clicked “delete” instead of “publish” is that I shouldn’t define who he is. My toddler will. And he needs the freedom to explore whatever interests and traits he may have, unhindered by any labels adults place on him. Let him be outgoing, funny, smart, shy, athletic, and artistic. Let him like numbers and words. Let him be all that, some, or none of that. But that’s for him to decide through the course of his life, preferably not when he’s two years old.
And can we even label our kids so absolutely? I’ve tried to determine where he falls on certain spectrum to find that he doesn’t always fall so neatly within the categories. He can be quite serious and downright funny. He easily says “hi” to some strangers and hides behind me with others. He can be up to no good and obey every instruction. He is one of the easiest and most difficult kids I’ve ever met.
Let kids be. They have their whole life to figure out who they are and what they like. I know I did—despite scoring terribly in math classes from having convinced myself that I just wasn’t good at the subject, I now enjoy crunching numbers and handling finances. And yes, while still being able to write.
Do you find yourself labeling kids? Do you steer your views and comments based on how you perceive your kids? Have you grown up with a label, and how has it affected you?
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