In our culture today, a lot of people seem to label kids without even noticing it. After all, if a child is a busy body and a handful, calling him that is just the truth, right?
But how many people pause to think about the effects of our loosely slung words on little kids?
We are hardy, as adults, but forget that young children are still very impressionable, and are still forming their identities.
We begin before our sons are even born – if he’s feisty in pregnancy, he’ll be called a ‘handful’ and people will tell you that you’d better get your sleep in now, because he’s going to be a handful once he’s out.
Busy toddlers are labelled ‘brats’. Young children are labelled ‘bullies’ and ‘tyrants’.
Family members, grandparents and strangers all have their say over your son, and by the time he goes to school, he’s heard a whole range of labels about himself before he can even have a chance to figure out who he is.
TURNING NEGATIVES INTO POSITIVES
Labels are powerful. A parent who can take these labels thrown at a boy, and turn them into positive attributes, can give that boy a positive mirror with which he can view himself in an awesome light. Take the labels and turn them into traits he can use to view himself with, with confidence, instead of letting negative labels erode his esteem. ‘Stubborn’ can be renamed as determined. ‘Aggression’ can be reworded as assertive. ‘Defiance’ can be renamed strong-willed.
As parents, we can take these labels and use them powerfully. A boy will take whatever labels are given of him, and subconsciously live up to that image of himself, whether it be good or bad. A boy with negative labels will begin to behave unacceptably, reinforcing his behavior which leads to low self esteem and more unacceptable behavior, more negative labels, and so the cycle continues.
At the same time, a boy given good labels will increase in confidence and try to live up to the positive labels.
THE IMPORTANCE OF REINFORCING POSITIVE ACTIONS
If you have a few kids, you’ll recognise the situation where all of them are fighting in another room, and you rush in to split them up and lecture them. If this happens on repeat, it could be that you’re giving them the message that you only notice them when they misbehave – after all, when they’re playing well, you get to focus on other things needing to be done. Be aware of what attention they’re getting from you, and work on focusing on affirming their good behavior as well.
Speaking about what they do right, before you address what they have done wrong, is also powerful. Instead of noticing the fact that your son put his socks on inside out, mention how proud you are of him for dressing himself so well in every other way. We tend to notice the parts not done properly, without noticing all the stuff done well.
Let’s be more aware of the labels we, and others, place on our sons and work on turning them into positive labels that we can work with to mould them and their behavior into something positive!
All 20 chapters of Raising Boys is available to download and read right here.