Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Dangers of Labeling a Child

How many of us have nicknames for our children? Goodness knows how many nicknames I've created for my children since they were born. It seems to come naturally and often than not, its done out of our affection for them. For example, when my girl was a baby, she liked to sleep on her stomach with her butt stuck up. So we started to call her "butt-butt". Then as she grew older, someone commented she looked very handsome like her daddy. Her nickname changed accordingly and we called her "our handsome girl." Our little boy also has his share of nicknames. Recently, we have been calling him "Funny Boy" coz' he does things to make us laugh and is always laughing himself. Well, he asked me a question the other day that made me think I had better be more conscience of what I call my children. I can't remember what he did but after he had done it, he asked me "Mommy, was that funny?" Alarm bells started ringing as it was obvious to me that this little boy was trying to live up to the label his parents had conveniently tagged on him.

Many child experts have discussed the negative consequences of labelling our children or pushing them into certain roles. Children tend to live up to their names. So imagine a child who is always referred to as "naughty boy" or "lazy girl"? How will they know how to act otherwise if their parents have already deemed them as such. And how do we as parents expect our children to be otherwise when we keep reminding them what we really think of them.

Now you may say, what harm would I do then if I use good labels on my child such as "smart boy" or "angel girl"? Even these labels may cause pressure and tension in a child. Just imagine "smart boy" stressing out because he didn't get all As on his last exam or "angel girl" trying hard to hide and cover up her mistakes because she doesn't want to "spoil" her image?

Reflect on your own life? What labels did your parents put on you? What role do you play in your family? Were you the Big Brother/Sister, the Baby of the Family, the Crazy One, the Helpful One, the Talented One, the Genius, the Strong Headed one, etc.... How has that effected you even until now?

So, what should we do instead? In the book, Liberated Parents Liberated Children by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, there is mention that a parent is a "storehouse for his child's finest moments." In other words, we remind them of all the good they had done. If a child finds difficulty reading, recount the times when he/she got it right. If a child keeps bullying a younger sibling, remind him/her of all the kindness bottled inside.

I actually like what is written in the book, so I'm just going to quote it:

"Children see themselves primarily through their parents' eyes. They look to us to tell them not necessarily what they are, but what they're capable of becoming. They depend upon us for a larger vision of themselves, and for the tools to implement that vision....
There is no such thing as a child who is "selfish." There's only a child who needs to experience the joys of generosity.
There is no such thing as a child who is "lazy." There's only a child who is unmotivated, who needs someone to believe that he can work hard when he cares enough.
There is no such thing as a child who is "clumsy." There's only a child who needs to have his movements accepted and his body exercised.
Children -- all children -- need to have their best affirmed and their worst ignored or redirected."

So with a lesson learned, I come before you with a pledge to free my children from all labels I have pinned on them. If you hear me label my child again, I ask that you do me a favor and pinch me.


  1. parents do that all the time, including me. i know its harmful, so i try to conscious if it... i have people calling their kids stupid, naughty and useless all them time. sometimes even worse...

  2. I never use hurtful names lah... otherwise will have long lasting effects :)

  3. I know, I know. That's why I constantly remind myself to be a good parent.. and NOT to call them names, or even try to be negative with them.

    We (parents) play the biggest role moulding them (children) into confident adults. They don't have to be geniuses , but should be confident of themself.

  4. Pinch me please! Thanks for the quote. Its lovely and a good reminder to us parents.

  5. A very interesting topic, makes us releasize how excactly we react to all these topics

  6. Simon,
    Yeah, I guess all parents do it. Just whether we are conscious of the consequences of our actions. Seems so harmless but actually...

    Labelling is not just hurtful names, it's any name. Some parents call their youngest child "baby" and the child plays that role, sometimes even until adulthood.

    I agree with you that having a confident child is better than having a genius.

    Glad you like it. It made me think.

    Welcome and thanks for commenting. Hope to see you here more often.

  7. that's why from day 1, i NEVER say anything negative about ashley....some moms i know are like " daughter is naughty this and naughty that" and they say it even in front of the child and i am sooo against that cause children/baby/tods may be young but i believe that it effects their soul. i;m not one to label ashley. my whole family knows how i feel especially labelling my child "naughty"..i mean common? she is only a would she know whether she is being naughty or not? she;s just a borther was labelled a naught boy by our grand aunt and till this day...(30 odd years down the road) he still remembers it. it's not a nice thing to remember if you ask me...

  8. Mom2ashley,
    Sorry my "moderated comments" have caused you undue stress. Hehehe. Anyway, what you say is true. Especially asians who think it's taboo to praise your own child.


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