My Children Shouldn’t Carry the Weight of Your Labels

As a mom with kiddos who are involved in a lot of sports, I spend a lot of my time chatting on the sidelines. I’m talking with fellow parents, grandparents and family friends of all sorts. We all come from different backgrounds and we’re all there to support our kids.

But some of our conversations need to end, folks.

My Children Shouldn't Carry the Weight of Your Labels

And I’m saying ‘our’ because I’m right in this mix with you.

Let’s reflect on some of the comments all of us have made at one time or another. You know, something like, “Landon has such a foul mouth! He’s always the first to spit out the naughtiest thing he overhears.” Or maybe something a little more general, something along the lines of, “Michelle is super smart, but math just isn’t her thing.”

I know these conversations aren’t happening only at sports events. They continue during scouting activities, at family reunions, even in passing through the aisles at Target. They’re happening all the time.

While these observations may be rooted in evidence (I mean, it’s likely that we’ve ALL heard Little Landon drop a four-letter zinger), I’ve been reading more about it and this sort of conversation can be a problem.

Those labels carry a HUGE weight for our children.

Educators have demonstrated time and time again that labels have an impact on student achievement in the classroom. My employer is bringing Peter DeWitt to Cedar Rapids this fall to talk to our local educators about student success strategies, and he notes in a recent blog, “What the research shows is that providing a label to a student in many cases creates a glass ceiling, which means that the student works to their label, and not always above it.”

Think about that tidbit from a parent perspective. Are you locking your child into a virtual box by labeling her? And what happens if Landon – you remember, the child who likes to try out new words for maximum impact?- overhears it when someone says they expect that sort of behavior from him?

Nothing irks my ire more than having a conversation about my children with family or friends, when my children might be within earshot, only to have someone slip in one of these comments! It makes me feel defensive, and my mama bear mode makes me want to protect my child from the label that has been thrust upon him. I might counter the comment, but often I’m silent because I really don’t want to call attention to it either.  

I know it’s super easy to fall into the trap of assuming a child is prone to a certain behavior and then referencing it when talking about a child. These labels we use when we talk about our children are typically used lightly and sometimes in jest.

But labeling my child or any other is limiting and it needs to end.

I love my parent-friends, family, and the community around my children, and I know many times these conversations are an attempt to build familiarity when people are talking about their own children with other parents. 

And I do believe that I, and the community of folks around me, have the best of intentions.

But my hope is that I’ll pause next time before casting the weight of a label onto a child and that you’ll do so as well.

Those comments carry a consequence that no child should have to carry.

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Renee Nelson
Renee holds three titles that are of utmost importance to her: mom to Cale and Ian; wife to Andy; and Communications Director for Grant Wood Area Education Agency. Although she has a Master’s degree from the University of Iowa, her heart still shines cardinal and gold for Iowa State University where she received her undergraduate degree. Renee’s a foodie who loves cooking, travel, her friends, her family, the Oxford comma, and happy hour. Cheers!

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