Saturday, November 12, 2011

Labels Are For Clothes, Not For Children.

A few months ago I began contributing to Citrus Lane's Parent Advisory Board and blog. I love Citrus Lane's mission to help make new parents feel more at ease with the amazing task they've signed up for. It's right up my alley. Last week I wrote a post for them about labeling which I wanted to share here as well (slightly expanded).  

Comparing them only drives them apart.
Instead, focus on their individuality.
One of the first things I learned as a mother of twins is that people naturally want to label and compare things. With twins it’s often people’s way of figuring out who is who. “Kaitlin is the one who likes puppies and Pearle is the one who likes horses.” In part it’s people’s way of connecting and making conversation, so I don’t take offense. But I have always felt it important to gently correct and enlighten.

When my kids were little, my son was the type of child who needed to observe a situation before he proceeded, whereas our daughter would rush right in. Because they are the same age it was unavoidable that we would hear, “So, she’s the outgoing one and he’s the shy one!” When this sort of thing happens repeatedly, the children can begin to take on the roles assigned to them. My daughter could easily have become the child who felt she had to always help her brother make friends or speak up for himself. And my son could easily have begun to think of himself as shy and introverted when in actuality nothing could be further from the truth!

What’s The Harm?
  • Even a label we may think of as “positive” can have negative consequences. Imagine having to live up to the idea of being “the helpful one”.
  • Comparing siblings, especially twins, is a perfect way to amp up the sibling rivalry.
  • Children believe EVERYTHING we say. Be careful with the words you use. Negative labels can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How Can I Avoid Comparing And Labeling?
  • As much as possible, contrast a label made by someone else by pointing out the broader picture: “Yes, right now he’s being a little timid, but you should have seen him climb those monkey bars yesterday!”
  • Make these responses in front of your children so that they begin to absorb the idea that their personalities are fluid and complex.
  • Compliment your child for something she has control over. Instead of telling her she’s smart, notice the hard work she puts into everything she does. Instead of telling her she’s pretty, compliment how kind she is to people.
  • Keep your comments about your twins focused. Avoid comparing one to the other when you compliment. “Thank you for clearing the table so quickly” doesn’t need to be followed up with “I don’t know why it takes your brother so long to do it!”
  • Remind friends and family that just because you have twins doesn’t mean they will hit milestones at the same time. One may be “the good eater” this week but before you know it, her sister will have caught up.
Of course you’re not going to ruin your children by telling them they’re beautiful or brilliant. Just be aware that your children are absorbing the comparing and labeling. Help them out by focusing on their individuality and getting to know their personalities in a deep and meaningful way. It will make a world of difference.

One of my daughter's pattern block creations.
Not bad for a 4-year old!
Most of us don’t think we’re labeling, but we do it all the time. And it's not just our children who feel the effects, we lose out as well. Labeling also limits our experience of others. 

If I decided that my daughter was a "girly girl" based on the fact that for a period of time she loved to play mommy with her dolls, I would perhaps have missed the chance to see that she also loves to build and dig and climb, that she has an incredible gift for spatial relationships and can create amazing mosaic patterns, or that she has a brain that can craft that most well thought-out negotiations that my husband and I often joke she will one day use in her law career. Imagine if I limited how I saw her by only labeling her as "girly".

What do you think? Do you ever label your kids? Have you been labeled? What are your suggestions for handling this issue? Or maybe you don't think it's an issue at all. Leave a comment below, I'd love to know your thoughts.

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach
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