“I think, therefore I am.”
— René Descartes
What words do you frequently use to describe your child?
Smart, adorable, sweet, loving? Probably — just to name a few.
But what about those other qualities — the one’s that don’t make your heart burst open with rainbows and shower everyone around you with skittles?
Labels can really go both ways. They can be positive or negative in nature. But when we are frustrated and pushed to our limits as moms, that’s when it’s the easiest to lash out at our kids and say “Why do you have to be so stubborn and whiny all the time!?” We toss around these words easily and harmlessly, without realizing that these words are labels — and they hold weight.
In the moment, we don’t think much about it. We’re tired, cranky and maxed out. (And we’re just being honest, right?) But the way we choose to see and describe our children can actually be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as they will grow into the people that the world tells them they are. Dr. Brenna Hicks at The Kid Counselor says, “Children develop and define their sense of self by processing what others tell them about who they are, what they are good at, how they behave and so on.”
At my house, we recently dove head first into the infamous “terrible two’s” and I found myself struggling BIG time. I naturally started using a ton of negative words to describe my son’s difficult behaviors and none of them made me feel good. In fact, the opposite started happening. I began resenting.
“Why does my son have to be like this when so many other moms seem to have it so easy?”
This thinking of course led to a world of overwhelming frustration, which left my psyche and wellbeing worn down to the bone. (#emotionalwreckage)
It also left me surrounded by a lofty pile of parenting books — searching for any answers or clues that would deepen my knowledge and help make life a little easier.
That’s when I stumbled on Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s book, Raising Your Spirited Child and was awakened with not only a totally new understanding of my son’s unique temperament, but ways I could start training myself to see some of his qualities in a more positive light.
And I also learned, I’m not the only one with a child who is like this… there are MANY others! (Can you see me prancing around the living room doing my happy dance right now? ‘Cause I totally am.)
The thing is, all children have their own personalities and temperaments that make them unique (and sometimes annoying). They each go through different phases in life that are difficult for us as parents.
In her book, Mary talks about the long-term effects that labels have on children and their parents. How labels act like a stamp on the forehead, creating a particular image for not only others to see, but also for the child to see in themselves. She encourages us to examine these labels, to get honest with ourselves and start paying attention to how they make us feel when we use them. Then she says, try and find a positive equivalent to use in their place.
For instance, when you say “My child is an exhausting, stubborn, explosive, defiant little wild-child,” it really doesn’t spark much pride and glee does it? In fact it often does the opposite. Negative labels automatically ignite our fight-or-flight response and put us on high alert and in total defense mode as parents.
Here is a list of some common negative labels with “feel-good” equivalents you could use in their place:
|Old Negative Label||New “Feel-Good” Equivalent|
|Demanding||Holds high standards|
|Argumentative||Strong opinions/Future Attorney|
|Stubborn||Committed to one’s goals|
|Easy Distracted||Highly Perceptive|
See, there are two sides to every coin… Much of our perception is about how we choose to see something.
So now let’s turn that past sentence around…
“My child is a charismatic, independent, strong-willed, energetic, passionate little human!”
No doubt, that feels a hell of a lot better.
Now i’m not saying this is easy. This is one of those “easier said than done” kinda things. But I think with practice, we can learn to cultivate a deeper understanding of our kids’ challenging qualities and learn to view them in a different, more positive light.
Because LABELS ARE POWERFUL. A simple change in the language we use can transform our thoughts and emotions towards our children in a big, BIG way. Changing the way we choose to see out little ones also changes the way others will see them — and ultimately, how they will come to see themselves.
We as the parents have a big responsibility. What we say and how we feel really matters.
We are the one’s who get to set the stage for the rest of of our children’s lives…. (no pressure right?)
So then… the curtain is pulled… how do you want to introduce your child to the world?