Sunday, June 24, 2012

Labels Limit A Child. Guest Post And Giveaway!

Sarah's book is well laid out and easy
to read, which is especially helpful
when you need some quick ideas!
Recently I was asked to check out a new, award-winning parenting book called What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young ChildrenThis book is short and very easy to read, with many excellent examples and I love that it includes children's book suggestions as a way to work through some of the thorniest issues. 

After reading it, I was glad to see that the author, Sarah McLaughlin, and I were very much on the same page about many things including helping children express their emotions, alternatives to shaming children as a way to change their behavior and avoiding label children.

Sarah has very kindly offered a guest post on labeling which is excerpted and adapted from What Not To Say, as well as an opportunity to win a great giveaway!

Labels Limit A Child. 
Guest post by Sarah McLaughlin

Labels are so tempting. Using adjectives to define a child is a natural desire. And I have to admit I was much more tempted to label my own child than I ever was someone else’s—maybe it’s how well you get to know a child you actually live with—I just wanted to know and name everything about him! But be it stubborn or helpful, labeling ties a child to their behavior, perhaps inextricably.

When a child hears a word or phrase applied to him often enough, it “sticks” just like a name tag. This can change his self-image. Children tend to accept without question the labels adults use to describe their physical characteristics, personality, abilities, and limitations. Diane, often called Angel, tries to live up to her nickname and that might seem like a good thing. However, nicknames and labels pressure children to act a certain way instead of being themselves—sometimes well-behaved and kind and other times unruly and vindictive. Consider each parent’s language in the following scenarios.
James at twenty months is fearless on the toddler-oriented playground. His father barely takes his hands off him and James struggles for independence to scoot quickly around the nearest structure. As James climbs, Dad says, “Be careful son, this pirate ship is very high. You are such a wild boy. Watch your head! Good boy. Hold Daddy’s hand, please. Good boy. What a bold boy you are!” 
Sophie is the same age. Her mother watches closely as the little girl negotiates the playground. Mom is careful to stay nearby, but doesn’t hover unnecessarily. She moves in if she sees Sophie traversing a drop-off point, or signaling for help. She also talks to her daughter: “Sophie, you are doing it all by yourself! Last week you asked for help in that spot. Reach . . . you did it. Your muscles are getting strong.”
Even seemingly positive labels like "smart"
or "good" may create expectations that can
be hard to live up to.
The father’s verbal cues are warnings, labels, and praise. Sophie’s mother gives a different sort of feedback by narrating her daughter’s movements and comparing them to a previous playground trip. Both parents want to keep their children safe, but their words send different messages about each child’s capabilities. In turn, these words influence the child’s behavior. James picks up on Dad’s nervous hovering and may defy him in an unsafe way, or act more fearful. Sophie will likely increase her skill and self-confidence, in part because of Mom’s descriptions.

If a child is told he acts a certain way, he will tend to continue, even if the description is negative. Is it helpful to you, or a child, to joke about him being a slowpoke? We often use unflattering labels to differentiate children, saying things like, “He’s our little show-off,” or “She’s the troublemaker in this classroom.” Obviously adults don’t want to reinforce these behaviors, but what about the more subtle labels? For example, consider “tomboy,” an outdated stereotype for a girl who is athletic, or doesn’t fit old ideas about girlish behavior and clothes. When a word like this pigeonholes a young child, she may feel there is something wrong with her. You can comment in a nonjudgmental way on a girl’s or boy’s preferences: “Jenny loves to climb trees and play soccer. She’s very active.” Or, “Eddie likes quiet activities—playing with dolls and trucks and looking at picture books.”

The labeling phenomenon is much like downloaded information. When we are young, we hear certain things being said to and about us, and they are stored on our hard drives. As we get older, those old files may continue to show up on our screen—and they are terribly hard to delete. Remember that the descriptive labels we apply to children can affect them for a long time, maybe even a lifetime.

It is easy to be unaware of the impact of our descriptive words. Adults tend to use positive labels to encourage children in a variety of activities. This is an ideal opportunity to try narrating instead. Simply say what you see, and use your tone wisely. Words that help without limiting are best. As for negative labels, they are best avoided too—we all behave in undesirable ways from time to time. Being able to separate what they do, from who they are is imperative for a small child.


Special Giveaway!
Please comment on this post about using or not using your words with your child, so that you can enter to win an ebook copy of What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children, in the format of your choice: PDF, epub, or Kindle format. Sarah will be giving away one copy at each blog stop and will announce it on the comments of this post tomorrow. (Other stops during this Blog Tour are listed on Sarah's blog here: Be sure to leave your email so we can contact you in case you're the winner!

Also, be sure to enter at Sarah's site for the Grand Prize Giveaway: a Kindle Touch! ( Winner will be announced at the end of the tour after July 15th.

Sarah and her son, Josh.
About The Author
Sarah MacLaughlin has worked with children and families for over twenty years. With a background in early childhood education, she has previously been both a preschool teacher and nanny. Currently, Sarah works as a licensed social worker with foster families at The Opportunity Alliance in South Portland, Maine.

She also teaches parenting classes and consults with families. In addition, Sarah serves on the board of Birth Roots, a perinatal resource center, and writes the "Parenting Toolbox" column for a local parenting newspaper, Parent & Family.

As reflected in her book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children, Sarah considers it her life's work to promote happy, well-adjusted people by increasing awareness of how children are spoken to today.

In a busy modern life, while Sarah juggles her son, her job, her husband, her family, and time for herself, she's also aiming for: mindful parenting, meaningful work, joyful marriage, connected family, and radical self-care. She is mom to a young son who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice about What Not to Say. More information about Sarah and her work can be found at her site:

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