The way that we choose to use language has a strong impact on our kids. We might think that labelling someone as a jock or a nerd means nothing, but that can’t be further from the truth.
In reality, labelling a child has an impact that can be long-lasting and affect their social and mental development as they grow. It is important not to allow labels to grab a hold of your child, or any part of their life, including athletics, academics, and their personal life.
The first labels that come to mind in athletics are winners and losers. Everyone wants their child to be a winner, but the very nature of competition stops everyone from winning. No matter how talented or skilled your child is, there will come a time when they lose.
Losing is okay! As a youth coach, I encourage kids and parents to look at losses as learning opportunities, not failures. It might be tough, but it doesn’t take a lot to make a child see where they can improve, what they need to focus on, and encourage them to do better next time. We call these, the "WINS" in our everyday lives!
What we need to keep in mind, though, is that you should never label your child as a loser, nor should you allow them to label themselves as losers. Sure, they may have lost a few games in a row. But being called a loser doesn’t stop just in sports. Being called a loser creeps into their everyday life. They will not want to try new things, make new friends, or push themselves in school or with their passions if they are a loser.
Don’t let your kid fall into the trap of calling themselves or anyone else a loser. A loss is a learning opportunity, not an everyday occurrence.
There are a lot of labels that float around at school. Dumb, stupid, nerd, geek. Even being called an average student has an effect on your child. It is awful when others bully a child with these terms, but even worse when they start believing it themselves.
Discourage your children from using labels like dumb and nerd. When someone thinks that they are dumb, they adopt a defeatist attitude that stops them from learning new things. When someone thinks they are a nerd, they might never try a new sport because they think that it is only for athletes, not nerds like them.
If you need to get some extra help for your child because they are struggling with a subject, don’t make them feel bad for it. They have their own passions and dreams, so highlight their strengths and help them grow elsewhere, too.
The problem with labels is that they limit growth. When you use a label on someone, it dictates who they are and who they will become. Life coaching is about unlocking the potential that every child has, but labelling goes against that.
Using labels in their personal life has the same effect. Furthermore, they are usually wrong. Your child is still growing, still discovering who they are, what they want to do, and where they want to go in their life. Labels that they are given now are likely inaccurate or temporary but can become permanent.
This isn’t just conjecture either. Labelling theory is a strand of sociology that has proven the effects of calling someone a criminal or a deviant, and the impact that these terms have on an individual.
That’s not saying that you or your kid’s friends might be calling them a criminal, but the same applies for other labels. If you introduce your son as shy, then he will grow up thinking that he shouldn’t put himself out there. If you describe your daughter as a tomboy, she might feel uncomfortable in her own skin when she wants to wear a dress or style her hair.
We all have a tendency to label things. We might label ourselves or others, but it is done almost unconsciously, and usually lazily. Odds are, your child will do it without even knowing the impact. Even though labelling can have a strong impact on your child, don’t scold them for doing so. Instead, educate them.
One of the longest-lasting lessons a child can be taught is to identify when a label is being used, and what we should use instead. They aren’t a nerd; they are strong in math but shouldn’t feel like they are weak. They aren’t a jock; they excel at sports but shouldn’t feel like they are dumb. They aren’t a loser; they hit an obstacle but will try even harder next time.