How Negative Labels Get 'Stapled To Our Hearts,' & How to help your kids. Susie E. Caron (c) 4/19/2015
How Negative Labels Get 'Stapled To Our Hearts,' & How to help your kids.
By Susie E. Caron © 4/19/15
Most adults agree that ‘name-calling’ between kids is nasty, and parents try to get their kids to stop. What surprises me is how often adults use ‘labels’, such as lazy, messy, fat, or worse,’ when they talk to children. Perhaps they don’t realize how harmful that is. In fact it is far more harmful than the ‘name-calling’ we want our kids to stop. Have you ever heard or said any of these:
“You are so lazy.”
“Stop acting stupid.”
“You are such a mess.”
“Don’t’ eat that. You’ll get fat.”
“Don’t be so silly.”
“You make me sick.”
If you recognize any of these statements, perhaps some of them were directed at you when you were a child. If so, you already know how hurtful they can be. You may also recognize how many negative labels stick with you throughout life. It feels like they were permanently stapled to your heart. That’s because when a parent, teacher or trusted caregiver called you a label, you believed them.
When we speak to children labels can have serious, harmful effects now and in the future. That’s because Kids turn the statements they hear into internal beliefs about who they are. Labels become part of the construction of their self-concept, identity and self-esteem. Labels cause children to act out what they believe they are.
Here are some examples:
1. “Don’t be stupid,” in a child’s mind can become, “I’m stupid,” or “Everyone thinks I’m stupid.” (The child may ‘act’ as though he/she is stupid more often.)
2. “Don’t eat that. You’ll get fat,” could change into, “I am fat.”, or perhaps, “If I can’t eat this, maybe I won’t eat anything. That way I’ll never get fat.”
3. “You make me sick,” can change into “I am so disgusting that I make everyone sick of me.” (This child could become reclusive, depressed or worse.)
Where did your own negative, personal beliefs come from? Are they accurate? Probably not. If you write down a few, you will soon see that they came from your early memories and they are not true descriptions of you. But, you may wonder “How did these become part of my belief system about myself?” It’s because as a child you believed your caregivers.
Children count on us, their parents, caregivers, and teachers. They want to believe us and please us. This is how they are programmed: “In order to survive, I must try to be what my parents think I am.” That’s why it is important to understand how the labels we apply to children, even in our humor, impact them for life. They internalize and act them out, sometimes even throughout adulthood.
Adults actually have choices. They can discard the negative beliefs, and substitute more positive personal beliefs about their own character. However, many adults do not discard these negatives, but instead, and often without realizing it, they pass them onto their children.
"Negative labels are no fun, and usually undeserved."
What can you do, if you are a parent, teacher or caregiver to help your child? First, write down anything negative you have said to your child. Next, change that into a positive. Write the new positive words down and practice saying them out loud. Practice helps put the new words into your long term memory so they are readily available when you need them. Here are some examples of how that might sound.
You are so lazy. Why not say something like “Wow, you really like to take your time and do things carefully. That’s okay but I need you to get this done by _____.”
“You make me sick.” Say “I’m so unset with you right now, I need time-out and you need to take time-out too. When you & I get calmed down, then we will talk about this.”
“Don’t be so stupid.” You could say “I think you are teasing me. I’ll bet you do know_____ (or you can figure it out.”)
Remember that the negative labels you use to discipline or even talk with your children become internalized, a permanent part of their identities, and the fuel for their actions. Instead, of labeling what’s ‘wrong’ ,think of ways to put a positive spin on what you say. Tell kids often that you trust them, believe in them and want them to do well and to grow up to be the best they can be. When you do this you’ll see your children blossom. They will grow more and more into the positive character qualities you say you see in them.
I also believe in you! I believe in you to grow healthy happy children who know they are loved.
Thank you for reading and thinking about this today. Will you also share this article with your family and friends on your favorite social media. (Quick Links on the left and just below.)
Twee’ means you and me.
Susie E. Caron
Susie E. Caron MA,
Author, Blogger, Podcaster,
Christian, Wife, & Mother, helps build parent-child relationships, 1 blog, book & podcast at a time.
Welcome! I recently retired from combined careers in teaching, psychotherapy, and parent coaching to spend more time writing.
When I'm not busy creating books or articles, you might find me looking for dark chocolate or riding my beautiful horse Apple in the woods and fields of Vermont.
These articles are for educational and self-help purposes only and are not intended as psychotherapy.
If you experience unusual symptoms or discomfort please see your medical or mental health practitioner.
No patent liability is assumed for use of the information contained. The author disclaims any responsibility for loss or risk for use or application of this material.
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Blog Reviews & Thank You!
July 13 at 7:17pm ·
Just wanted to say that I love your posts about the different ways to connect/relate/understand your child. It has given me a new approach towards understanding my daughter and allowing HER to tell me how she feels instead of me suggesting to her how she should feel. Thanks Susie!