As a human, I know we like to categorize things. It’s how our brain works. We give names to everything around us: colors, careers, food products, personality traits or disorders, to name a few – all this to make sense of the world around us. As a graduate in Psychology we were taught not to prematurely label our clients. Firstly labels have a way of “sticking”, and they might also become a self fulfilling prophecy.
But it’s harmful to label your children. I remember as a child my parents labeled me the smart one or the “A” student. I didn’t want this label because it separated me from my siblings. My siblings who I absolutely adore. But unknowingly this label put some distance between us, and possibly resentment, never mind the pressure on me to perform.
Now that I am a mom, I have to catch myself when I say, “oh he is the mischievous one” or “he is the sensitive one”. I think we all have those qualities within us, but it just depends on the situation and what the situation or environment brings out in us. With twins this has become more obvious.
I have labeled one of my twins as braver than the other. He will get his haircut first because then the other twin will observe him and see that it’s no big deal and then he will do X, Y or Z.
But just a few days ago, I was very surprised by the turn of events. The “not so brave one” was braver than his brother. We were at the science center and some employee brought around a massive bug – a huge cockroach.
Well here you see my “not so brave” son looking at it – and then touching it (below)!
Whereas my other son wanted nothing to do with it.
Labels can also limit your children from achieving their full potential. You might call them sporty but in doing so they might perhaps neglect their studies or vice versa. Back to the bug example above, I was surprised by my son’s bravery – I never saw it coming, but had the opportunity not presented itself, I might have thought he wasn’t capable of touching the bug and I wouldn’t even have put him in that situation.
Also while we were on vacation the twins were exposed to so many new things. The biggest being the beach and the ocean. My twin “the go getter” who runs in to all situations wasn’t so sure about the ocean and the beach – he preferred to be held unless the word “crab” was mentioned and then he wanted to be right in the center of the action! My other son, who normally stands back and observes his brother before doing things, loved, loved the water, the sand and everything about the beach. You just can’t predict correctly all the time, so labeling your child a certain way might limit them.
What I learnt from this was to keep exposing my kids to different situations, even if I presume to know how they will react, perform or behave, because they may just surprise me. And I am not sure whether it was the situation that was different or the fact that they continue to grow and change, but I don’t want to limit my kids by my presumptions or labeling.
If you say your child is shy/quiet/outgoing/funny, in my opinion you are reinforcing that behavior and they will most likely keep acting that way.
But as I said before labeling is how we make sense of the world – so what is the solution?
In my humble opinion if you have to label make sure it’s a positive label. Also be sure when you label that you are not comparing them to your other children OR making your other children feel limited in some way. Make sure your children know that in any situation, anything is possible as long as they apply themselves, and do their personal best.