The labels our children acquire have a life cycle of their own…and that life cycle has a tremendous impact on their identity. Unfortunately, labels are often conceived without thought. They might be conceived in anger or in jest, but they are conceived, nonetheless. You’ve seen it happen. A parent tells their child to quit being “stupid” or accuses them of being “lazy…” and a label is conceived. Or an infant gets a nickname that sticks, and a chubby baby acquires the label “Chubby” that sticks even into adolescence.
As the child develops, the label develops as well…and gives birth to their own thoughts about themselves. The labels give birth to the DNA of their self-image. “Stupid” and “lazy” are no longer simple statements conceived in anger or frustration but an integral part of the child’s thoughts about themselves. The label conceived gives birth to a self-identity of “stupid” or “lazy.” “Chubby” matures into an enduring belief about “who I am,” even as the child physically grows into a healthy young adult. The label has grown. It has taken on a life of its own, a life that our children (and ourselves) struggle with as adults. The labels of “stupid” and “lazy” battle with the hardworking achievement of an intelligent adult for that person’s primary self-image.
Of course, not all labels are the same. Some might give birth to a more positive self-image. But labels conceived in anger or in jest end up giving birth to hurt and self-deprecating inner thoughts. I once knew a young man named Sterling. His family called him “Sterile” for short, never realizing how disempowering this nickname could be. However, one day while I was visiting a church with Sterling, an older man asked his name. He replied, “Sterling.” The man smiled and said, “Like silver. You are as precious as Sterling silver.” The young man’s face lit up with a smile like I had never seen on his face before. Perhaps a more encouraging nickname would have been Silver.
All of this begs the question: what labels do you conceive in your children and the children around you? How might those labels impact your child’s self-image as they grow into adulthood with that label embedded in their thoughts? Think carefully…and act wisely.