Resisting the Temptation to Place Labels on Our Children
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
I smiled at the little girl who was deeply engrossed in coloring. Her mom noticed that I was observing the work in progress, and she said, “She is our artist.” At that moment, a rambunctious boy entered the room and the mom was quick to say, “And this is our track star!”
We chatted for a few minutes, long enough for me to know that this was a dedicated mom who thought she was, in her words, “declaring belief” in the future of her young children.
What is intended as encouragement can become a label that is a heavy burden for a child to carry. I have encountered many adults who believed they disappointed their parents by not living up to the label they had carried throughout childhood.
Sometimes when we try to emphasize a child’s strengths, we end up labeling them as the smart one, the coordinated one, the brave one, or the one with the sunny disposition. This can be very confining and limiting.
I recently sat with a young woman who told me that in her family she was labeled as the “crazy one”. It was intended to be a reference to her zany sense of humor and her spontaneous personality, but something about that label went deep within her. It left her feeling abnormal, unworthy, and fearful of the future.
So, what’s a mama to do? How do we use our words wisely, to build up and not tear down?
- Remind ourselves daily that God has a unique and special plan for each and every child.
- Pray that God will reveal His plan for each child. I love what Tony Evans says. “Trying to improve on God’s plan for our children is like trying to improve a Picasso with a Sharpie. We are going to mess up a masterpiece.”
- Observe and guide, but don’t take the wheel and steer.
- Avoid investing our ego and pride into our children’s accomplishments or disappointments. Children are constantly watching us and taking their cues about what’s important from our responses.
- Keep an open mind and allow room for growth and change. Ask God to help us discern the difference between a true bent, gift or talent and a passing infatuation. The child that was “too short to play basketball’ could grow 6 inches over summer. The shy child may discover a new level of confidence and step out on stage. The one who had no interest in their studies might discover a subject that fascinates them and become a serious student. A sunny disposition can suddenly hide a deep well of tears.
- Remember, we are all multi-dimensional, complex beings. There is no one label that describes any of us. Try to keep our words positive and rooted in the present.
Example: “The way you did xxxxx was very responsible.” | “You showed such kindness when you XXXXX.”
- Give ourselves a measure of grace. Parenting is not easy. Good parents make mistakes.
Take it all to God in prayer and step into each new day knowing that His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Let’s talk about it…
- Did you or someone in your family carry a “label” as a child?
- If so, what impact did it have? Do you have a fond association or a negative association?
- How do you encourage the current strengths of your children without putting them in a box and limiting their possibilities?