I recently bought a book called “O, Give Me Patience But Hurry Please – Practical Tips For Longsuffering Parents”. Not that i am a long suffering parent, but i found the title rather funny and flipping through the book, i thought the tips were bite-size and would be excellent for times when I need some thoughts about parenting but had no time for long explanations. I decided to buy the book and while reading, I came across a page and found it very true and very important.
Growing up, my own parents and extended family were quick to point things out that were negative and label my siblings, cousins and I in certain ways. Constantly, we would be called “stupid”, “lazy” and so on. But I don’t blame my parents and uncles and aunties for being that way. After all, they were brought up that way too.
Unfortunately, precisely because of how used to it they are with labeling children, they neglect or are even oblivious to the effects of labeling.
I remember days of telling myself how useless I was because I was sometimes called that. And when I failed at doing certain things, I told myself it was because I was useless.
Even teachers sometimes get into labeling and add on to the treatment that some children may already be facing at home. I remember an incident in primary school, when the ink in my pen refused to come out. I shook the pen really hard and apparently, the ink landed on my forehead. My form teacher saw what happened and told me there was ink on my face. I tried to clean it away and made a bigger mess. My teacher gave a disapproving look, shook her head and said, “Why are you so clumsy? Go to the toilet and wash your face!” And I went to the toilet, with her statement ringing in my head, telling myself that I was a clumsy person.
A lot of times, certain terms we use on our children are convenient descriptions that we don’t give much thought to, but the effects could be bigger than we think, especially if we repeat the terms to our children.
One of the worst times of using labels mindlessly is when we are angry with our children for something they did. “Why are you so naughty?”, “Can you use your brains?”
I once overheard a father scolding his son because of poor examination results. Instead of address why the son wasn’t performing well academically, the father told his son, “With such lousy results, what do you want to do when you grow up? You want to be a duck (gigolo)?!” I am very sure the father didn’t mean to want his son to be what he said but in a fit of anger, he simply said whatever he wanted. I can only imagine the hurt in the son’s hurt, on top of his already below average school results.
Self Fulfilling Prophecy
What is self fulfilling prophecy?
Here are some explanations I found online.
When a child has been labelled the same way for a while, he may start believing that it is actually true about him and start acting according to the label.
Even if you think your child is stubborn, don’t say it to him or her. The child may think, “Mum says I am stubborn, so yes, I am stubborn.” Instead, discuss that behavior. Talk about the situation and ask the child what he thinks of how he acted. And maybe only use the word when the child is out of earshot.
Having said so, sometimes it’s easier said than done. It certainly takes a conscious effort not to use certain labels or terms, especially when you are angry or annoyed. Growing up in an environment when people don’t give much thought to how they label me sometimes, it can be easy to oversee how I might label my own child too.
Maybe one of the best reminders to myself not to label my child for her behaviour is looking back at my own childhood and reflect on how being labelled affected me. That should remind me enough that I don’t want my child to feel a certain way about herself.