Can't labels be a problem?

Parents worry about labeling their child. Their concerns include:

  • Self-fulfilling prophesy. "If I keep telling my child she is a certain way, won't she become even more that way?"

    Labels can be a box or a bridge. If used to limit expectations and opportunities, they are a box. Alternatively, if labels create understanding and therefore lead to better behavior management, they are a bridge. Temperament traits are a box if you say to a cautious child, "You don't like new things, so we won't go to the petting zoo." Temperament is a bridge if you say, "We'll go to the petting zoo together and stand in the corner to watch. Then I'll pet one of the goats, and you can too, when you feel ready."

  • Catering to the child. "If I accept temperament differences, won't I have to accept and put up with behavior I don't like?

    It depends. For example, it's common for intense, high-energy 2-year-olds to bite. You don't shrug your shoulders and let them bite. You move them, give them safe things to bite, and tell them to use their words. On the other hand, if your sensitive child can't stand tags in his shirts, life will be much calmer and easier if you remove them until he is able to do so by himself.

  • Inequality. "Isn't it unfair to treat my children differently?

    The goal is to balance respect for the child's temperament with respect for parents, siblings, and the community, as well as each child's need to grow and mature. How the parts play out varies from child to child and family to family. An emotionally intense child, with strong feelings about everything, unavoidably fills up more emotional space in the home. Therefore parents may take the quiet, mellow sibling out on some separate outings. When parents work to respond to the needs of all, they are being fair.

  • More work for me. "If I do things differently for each child, doesn't that just add more work?"
    Different paths can lead to the same destination.

    It can, although life is generally easier when parents work with rather than against inborn traits. Your high energy child wants to join the soccer team and your low energy child wants to take art lessons. Yes, it's more complicated to take them different places. However, pushing them into the annoyance and frustration of activities that don't suit them will make your emotional life a lot harder.

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