We observe our kids’ actions every day in all situations. So, is our observation forming an opinion about our kids that leads to labeling?
As a parent it is so hard not to adopt labels towards our children. But if you desire to have a great relationship with your kid through middle school and high school, it is essential to avoid labels.
Speaking as a parent of four children, I would be lying if I said I had never made this mistake. The labels I adopted always led to issues in our relationship and their lives. We form labels when we witness repeated behaviors that lead us to make conclusions about our children and their weaknesses. Some of the more common labels I hear when talking with parents about their children include:
I have found that these labels are logical conclusions based on specific behaviors or issues that parents can easily rattle off from past experience.
Here is the problem. If labels are justified based on past failures, I would venture to guess that we would all be carrying around a number of less than flattering labels that would make us cringe.
Example of Labeling
As an example of what I see happening with our children, consider this:
Let’s presume that over the past several years you have had some bumps in the road with your boss. Some may be your fault and some may be because your boss has his own issues and bad days as well. As a result of these bumps, your boss adopted the label that you were lazy and unreliable. While this represented specific incidents your boss could recall, they represented only a fraction of the body of your work.
Then one day you talk to your boss at lunch and tell him you have to leave an hour early for a doctor’s appointment. Given the label, what will your boss think? Immediately doubt will enter your boss’ mind leading him to think you are really slipping out early for some other purpose. As a result, he may say no or tell you to make up the time tomorrow. The label wipes out any patience, belief, trust or understanding so you must make up the time. In this position you find yourself feeling like no matter what you do, you are viewed by his label. If this frustrating situation continues, you have three options: quit the job, give up trying, or give in and begin to live out the label.
How This Applies to Our Kids
As I coach families around the country, labeling is a situation I see being played out far too often between parents and their children. Children tell me they are trying to make changes but no matter what they do their parents assume the worst based on their parents’ labels. It has the same effect on them as in the previous example. Since they cannot quit the job of being a child, they distance themselves from their parents, give up trying, or give in to the label. As a result, they become hyper sensitive, react and withdraw, emotionally divorcing themselves from their parents.
To us as parents these reactions serve as further evidence of the labels we have given our children; our labels become more firmly entrenched and a downhill spiral is locked into place. Unfortunately the outcomes are never positive in the lives of our kids.
We parents do not want to be defined or labeled by our past mistakes; we know we can learn, grow and make better decisions. Our children need us to give them the same opportunity, a chance to learn, grow and make better choices.
Coaching through the Labels
Recently I coached a young man who won a major US National Championship in a difficult sport. He had worked hard from a young age to win the championship at a young age and then crashed.
Unfortunately along the journey to the championship, his mother had adopted some labels, including of all things that he was lazy even though he trained six to eight hours a day. The label came from those days when he did not want to practice or refused to take on his grueling training schedule. He also heard from his mom a message that demanded perfection and unceasing work.
As I gained this teen’s trust, I traced the beginning of his lying back to his hiding from his mom anything that might appear lazy. He was fighting to counteract the painful label of being lazy. What may shock you is that he eventually gave in and adopted her label and began to see himself as lazy. He even saw himself as a failure even though he had won a national championship. When he could not beat her labels, he gave up trying, quit the sport and lost his spot on the US Olympic Team. This served to further confirm that he truly was a failure. This tragic outcome led to even bigger issues in his life.
While it is true our children have weaknesses and repeated failures, we need to expect and accept this fact. They are children. They do not have our knowledge, experience or abilities. This is the very reason for childhood. It is their time to make mistakes, grow, learn and figure it out. Viewing our children through their failures and weaknesses locks them into the labels we give them and in effect prevents them from changing.
Why? Because even when they make an effort like in the boy’s example above, they are doubted and questioned. They believe we think they are not trying to change. The impact on their hearts, minds and desire to please their parents is fatal. They give up trying and often the frequency of the bad behavior they were actually trying to address increases.
Avoiding labels is essential if we want to have access to help our children learn from their mistakes and overcome their weaknesses. Coming down on our children’s’ weakness and adopting labels locks our kids in place. Coming alongside them and encouraging them is powerful in helping them move forward. When they understand that we believe that they can overcome their weaknesses and learn from their mistakes, they draw closer to us. Our trust in them gives them the strength and belief in themselves that they need to be able to take on their shortcomings. Our belief in them helps them move towards a bright future and the success that all children desire and what you truly want for them.
Would you like to begin a relationship with your kids without labels?
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