Stop Labeling Our Kids

I don’t often write about what “other parents do” for many reasons…

  1. I know that no parent is perfect (including me).
  2. I know that we all have our moments and make mistakes (including me).
  3. I don’t want parents to be afraid to be around me thinking that they are being judged or that their parenting mishap will show up in my next email or blog. 🙂 (I promise I have learned that no one wants unsolicited parenting advice).

But I have to share this one…

One time I overheard a mom tell another group of parents that her 8-year-old daughter was in the “Awful 8” phase of life.

Awful 8?   What is that?  I had never heard of it! I had heard of the “Terrible Two’s” and “Threenager Three’s” and the “Fighting Fours” (which I’m never a fan of negative labels for our kids) but Awful 8?  What the heck?  I cringed…not just because this mom spoke these words about her own daughter, but because she spoke them in front of her daughter.  It was her “label.”  And let me tell you…this little girl was living up to it. 

Because as I observed their interactions with each other, her daughter’s behavior was whiny, disrespectful, ungrateful, “complainy”, negative, and well…pretty awful.  

But then I realized something, she wasn’t awful at all (because NO CHILD IS AWFUL…I repeat…NO CHILD IS AWFUL), she was just a product of her label.  She was living up to her mom’s expectations.  And she was desperately seeking her mom’s attention and only getting it in negative ways.  

At one point, I observed this little girl tell her mom:  “Hey, mom. I didn’t complain about what kind of drink I got.”  Her mom, without even looking up from her phone, says: “Uh huh.”  No acknowledgement that her daughter chose not to make a complaint…no smile to say thank you for choosing gratitude this time.  Nothing. This mom missed her chance for a positive interaction!! I saw the little girl deflate a little wanting some sort of positive exchange from her mom for her good (and from what I had witnessed, uncharacteristic-like) choice.  But nothing. So guess what happened?

Her daughter went right back to griping, moaning, complaining and rolling her eyes about everything again and guess who looked up from her phone to berate her.  “Quit your griping.”  “You’re such a diva.”  “Stop annoying me.”  It turned into quite a back-and-forth exchange with her mom’s full energy and attention on her daughter’s negative behavior. I was sick to my stomach. This girl has realized that she won’t get any attention for making a good choice, but she will get a TON of attention and interaction for her bad ones.

So what has this little girl learned about herself? 

  • I’m awful.
  • The only way to get my mom’s attention is if I act awful.

I wanted to look this mom in the eyes and say—“You’re missing it. You’re missing an amazing opportunity to connect with your daughter…to have a close, positive relationship with her…to teach her to be a respectful, grateful, optimistic and resilient woman and guide her to be all that God created her to be.”

But her label stuck and she was called awful again and again. I had to move away from them and pray for them (again because I knew my advice wouldn’t be very well received. In fact I may have just been punched in the face!!)


They just haven’t been taught the right tools or responses.  

Or they aren’t getting the attention they desperately need and want when they do act appropriately.

So the lesson here is…how often do we label our children? How often do we take a label and use it to define them and their behavior?  How often do we miss out on seeing the good choices they ARE making? How often do we focus too much on the label we have given them and not enough time teaching and training them to have different, better, more respectful behaviors?

Because if we really think that our kids are “divas”, or whiny, or “complainy”, or bossy, or always have to have things their way, then we have a job to do.  And it’s not labeling…it’s not arguing…it’s not berating…it’s TEACHING!

Taking time each and every day to build a healthy relationship with them and teach them, train them, and model for them the positive skills and character traits we want them to learn and take with them into the world.

And this takes time. So let’s take the time.

Whatever we focus on, that’s the behavior we are going to see.

Whatever we label our kids, they will live up to it.  

Our words will become their inner voice and that voice will be in their heads for the rest of their lives.

So let’s see the good, speak the good, and if we ever do label our kids, let it be about their good character!

Lord, help us to see our kids the way You see them.  Open our eyes to their unique qualities and characteristics that You have given them.  And reveal to us any unhealthy labels we have put on our kids–whether we are aware of it or not–and give us a new focus for how to train them in Your goodness. 

Here’s to building better families–


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