Tag Archive for label

The Life Cycle of a Label in Your Child

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.

Deposits to Your Child’s Bank of Honor

Strong families make multiple, daily deposits into the Family Bank of Honor (Read Family Bank of Honor for more ideas on making investments in the Family Bank of Honor). We not only expect children to make deposits into the overall Family Bank of Honor, but we need to make deposits into their honor accounts as well. But, certain phrases cheapen our deposits.  These phrases take the value away from an attempted deposit and make it empty. Instead of using phrases that cheapen our deposits, the whole family will benefit when we use phrases that enrich our deposits. Let me give you a few examples.

  • “No problem” tends to cheapen the deposit. It raises an implicit question, a subtle doubt so to speak. Did we do “it” simply because it was “no problem”? Would we have valued our child enough to do it if it was difficult or problematic? A better phrase, one that will enrich the deposit might be “I am glad to do it for you,” “I enjoyed doing it for you,” or even the infamous, “My pleasure.” These statements enrich the deposit by noting you did it because you valued the person and enjoy doing things with and for them.
  • “That’s a good boy/girl” is another phrase that cheapens a deposit. Saying “good boy/girl” implies that your child is good only because of whatever they did or are doing that prompted the statement. It suggests their “goodness” is based on performance, not inherent worth. Rather than applying the label of “good” to your child, make note of their effort. Or note one aspect of their work that you admire. For instance, “You worked hard on that project.” “I like the colors you chose.” Noting effort enriches the deposit and encourages a “growth mindset” and persistence (Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success), both important for success.
  • “Stop crying. It’s OK.” This phrase is often said in an attempt to comfort our children. But it cheapens the deposit into their honor bank by disregarding and minimizing their emotions. You can accomplish the same goal (providing comfort and nurturance) while enriching the deposit by saying things like “That really hurts” or “Can I do something to help you feel better.” Sometimes you will not even need to say anything to make an enriching deposit. Simply give your child a comforting hug. You can further enrich a “hug deposit” by saying “I love you” while you hug them.
  • “You’re so lazy/smart (you pick the label).” Anytime we apply a global label to our child, whether a positive or a negative label, we have, at best, cheapened the deposit into their honor account. Avoid negative labels because they actually make withdrawals from your child’s honor accounts. Positive labels lead to a “fixed mindset” (Read Build Your Child’s Success Mindset for more) that will hinder growth and success. Instead, enrich the deposit by acknowledging specific behaviors you like or behaviors you would like to see changed.  For instance, “You studied hard and learned a lot for that test” or “Your practice really paid off.” On the negative side, “You chose to watch TV all day, so now your project is going to be late.” Addressing specific behaviors and their consequences enriches deposits into the Bank of Honor.
  • “Wait until your father/mother gets home.” On first glance, this statement may not appear to influence the bank of honor. However, it cheapens deposits into your child’s bank of honor by giving your power away to the other parent. Without power all your deposits become weaker, less valuable. Only powerful people can make priceless deposits. Rather than “wait ’til your father gets home” to address a behavior, address it in the moment. You can still address it when your partner arrives home, but address it in the moment as well. By doing so you enrich all your deposits into your child’s bank of honor.

I think you get the idea. Some statements cheapen deposits into the bank of honor. Others will enrich the deposit. Fill your children’s banks of honor with enriching statements that pay rich dividends of joy and maturity.

Saved From the Tyranny of the Family Label

Growing up in a family we often find ourselves socialized into particular roles. Family members get “pigeon-holed” as the scapegoat, the smart one, the trouble-maker, the helper, the athlete, etc. Those labels shape how we think. When we are treated like a helper, we grow to think of ourselves as a helper. When constantly treated like a Dancing Marionettetroublemaker and called a “liar” or “stupid” in the midst of trouble, we being to think of ourselves as a lying, stupid troublemaker. These thoughts (good or bad) follow us into adulthood. We often do not even realize the need to address these roles until they interfere with our lives in some way. Then, we battle the limitations of the label, the walls of emotional confinement and mental restrictions created by the label we take with us into life. We struggle to replace the label of troublemaker, for instance, with a more truthful label like curious explorer.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anyone in my family confined by a negative role and label. I don’t want anyone to have to struggle to escape the imprisonment of some negative label. I don’t want my family members pigeon-holed. I want them to develop as a well-rounded people. But how can I avoid the labels? How can I avoid pigeon-holing them?

  • First, avoid labeling and name calling. Do not stoop to name calling, even in the midst of arguments…especially in the midst of arguments. Name calling and labeling sets up patterns of self-perception in our mind like concrete over time. The longer we hear the label or name, the more solid it becomes embedded in our minds. So, avoid labeling and name calling.
  • Second, instead of labeling and name calling, acknowledge effort. Also, acknowledge a wide variety of talents and skills your spouse or child exhibit.
  • Third, encourage everyone in your family (including yourself) to try new things. Deliberately seek out the things you believe you are not good at and give them a try. Learn about them a little bit and enjoy the new experience. If you’re a good athlete but not so good at art, take an art class. Keep on enjoying sports, but take an art class just to try something new. Who knows? You might find a new interest and talent.
  • Fourth, our children may go through periods in which they lie more often…or constantly get under foot trying to help…or some other behavior. During those times, realize that people change and grow. Rather than attach a label, remain open to the idea that they may “grow out” of this behavior. Then, calmly address the behavior. Address each incident individually, not collectively. Become curious about the motivation behind the behavior. Discuss the behavior and identify alternative behaviors. After you have addressed the behavior, treat them “as-if” they already got it. Repeat this process as necessary…and repeating will likely be necessary.

Four actions you can take to break you and your family free from the tyranny of labels and the “pigeon-hole” confinement of superficial roles; four actions that can set your family free to grow into a well-rounded people.

Parents, Do You Feed Your Insecurity or Your Confidence?

Raising a child is a demanding and difficult task. It raises our anxiety and brings out our greatest insecurities. I don’t know about you, but I have enough personal insecurity without bringing my parenting into the mix! Even worse, the more insecure we feel about our parenting, the less effective we are as parents. Effective parents are confident parents. So, how can we decrease our parental insecurity and increase our parental confidence? Perhaps the answer lies in the old Cherokee fable—the one we feed will grow.

Exhausted MomFeeding Parental Insecurity:

  • We feed parental insecurity with comparisons. When we compare our failed attempts to keep the house spotless or to prepare a healthy three course meal before rushing off to baseball practice with the parent who appears to have it all together, we feed our insecurities. Any time we compare ourselves to another, we feed our insecurities. When we compare our children with other children, we feed our insecurities.
  • We feed parental insecurity with worry about the future. Insecurity grows quickly when we worry about our children’s future education, athletic career, relationships, or safety. When we think more about the future than our present relationship, insecurity mounts. Statements of fear like, “What if I don’t…my children won’t…,” are lies that feed our insecurities.
  • We feed parental insecurity with labels that define us by our children’s status or achievements. When we view our children’s success or lack of success as a reflection on our effectiveness as a parent or our worth as a person, insecurity grows. When we let our children missing a basket, singing off tune, or wearing that oddly colored hat define us, insecurity will grow by leaps and bounds. These incidents may bring looks from other parents. Those looks do not define us; they define them.

Feeding Parental Confidence:

  • We feed parental confidence when we accept our children for “who they are” and “just as they are.” When we become students of children’s interests and strengths and learn to be content in their unique abilities and wonderful averageness, we feed our parental confidence. When we promote activities and opportunities that promote their unique abilities, even if those abilities vary from our interests and the interests of those around us, we will see our children blossom…and that view feeds our parental confidence.
  • We feed parental confidence when we focus on the present with our children. Rather than getting caught up in worry about the future, turn your attention to the present. Rather than worry about college, invest in tuition today. Rather than worry about future athletic achievement, focus on enjoying sportsmanship and athletic activity together today. Rather than worry about future safety, spend time with your children teaching them how to move safely in the world through your example…today! You get the idea. Rather than getting caught up in worry for tomorrow, enjoy your children today…and feed your parental confidence.
  • Feed parental confidence by getting a life. Rather than defining yourself through your children’s achievements and accomplishments, joys and sorrows, get a life of your own. Develop your own interests. Enjoy activities geared toward your strengths. Remember, your children will leave home one day to start a life and family of their own. Develop some hobbies, interests, and activities you can continue to enjoy even after they leave home. Doing so will feed parental confidence.

Now the choice is up to you. Which “wolf will you feed”?

Lincoln on the Parental Tyrant

My family and I enjoyed a wonderful trip to visit family in Illinois. While there, we visited the Lincoln Museum and Lincoln’s home in Springfield. As we toured a home in Lincoln’s community, I read a quote by Mary Todd Lincoln: “He [Lincoln] always said, ‘It is my pleasure that my children are free, happy and unrestrained by parental tyranny. Love is the chain whereby to bind a child to its parents.'”


Lincoln was apparently rather permissive with his children; but, he shows wisdom in this statement. We do want our children to grow up “unrestrained by parental tyranny.” Instead, we want them to grow up under the “loving parental authority” that will “bind a child to its parents.”  Compare the two with me and see if you don’t agree.

  • Parental tyranny would place unreasonable demands on children. Loving parental authority places reasonable and age appropriate expectations on children. Children still have chores and behavioral expectations, but they are age appropriate.
  • Parental tyranny makes harsh demands. If those demands are not met, children receive cruel punishments that might include demeaning and belittling comments. Unfortunately, under parental tyranny, the parent is never satisfied with any job children complete. It never meets the unreasonable standard of a parental tyrant. Loving parental authority, on the other hand, encourages children, praises effort invested in a task, and acknowledges a job well-done. As noted above, reasonable and age appropriate expectations remain in place. If these expectations are not met, children receive age appropriate consequences designed to teach desired behavior.
  • Parental tyranny uses coercive control methods such as guilt, threats, and belittling. Loving parental authority uses consequences designed to teach rather than punish. Consequences “fit the crime” and either flow naturally or logically from the misbehavior. For instance, if children do not clean up after themselves, parental tyranny may yell at them, labels them as “lazy” and “disrespectful,” “a pig” with “no sense.” Loving parental authority tells them they must clean their room before watching their favorite TV show or going out with friends…and does not “give in” because they feel bad.
  • Parental tyrants dish out arbitrary consequences. Sometimes misbehavior receives no consequence, sometimes a harsh consequence, and sometimes a simple consequence. Loving parental authority offers clear and consistent expectations with clear and consistent consequences.
  • Parental tyranny results in in an oppressive environment filled with harsh competition, fear, and resentment. Loving parental authority creates an environment filled with honor, encouragement, kindness, and grace. The environment created by loving parental authority is filled with joyful celebration!


I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a house that practices parental tyranny. I think Old Honest Abe was right. We need a home “unrestrained by parental tyranny,” a home in which loving parental authority rules the roost. And when it does, love will “bind a child to his or her parent.”

Parental Assumptions & the Cycle of Discipline

What do you believe about your children’s behavior? When they misbehave, what assumptions do you make?  When they behave well, what do you think? Many parents parenting challengedon’t take the time to answer these questions. However, the answers you give impact your children’s behavior, your children’s belief about themselves, and your response to your children’s behavior. Consider these examples.

  • If you see your children’s misbehavior as rebellion, you will respond swiftly and harshly to squelch the rebellion. You might assert your adult power to “put down the rebellion” and show your children who is in control. Your children will grow to see themselves as powerless. They will feel intruded upon and imprisoned by your assertion of power. They will want to break free and push against your authority even more. They will want to assert their power, but the only way to do so is through rebellion. Ultimately, they will grow more rebellious in their attempt to assert their own independence, autonomy, and power. And so the cycle grows.
  • If you assume your children’s behavior is a result of laziness, you may push them to do more. You will attempt many ways to motivate them, maybe even call them lazy in the process. They may accept that label and begin to consider themselves lazy. Unfortunately, a lazy person can’t change; it takes too much work and they are too lazy to do the work. As they struggle to feel motivated to do what is asked, they may also begin to feel bad, like something is wrong with them. With no other choice, they live up to (or should I say “down to”) the label of lazy.
  • If you believe your children act out of sneaky defiance, you will have to constantly be on your toes. You can stalk their Facebook and Instagram. You will look at them with accusing eyes when they arrive home late, assuming that they are lying about the reasons for their tardiness. Your suspicions will grow in their mind, making them believe they are not trustworthy. “If my parents don’t trust me, who will?” Your children will then begin to see themselves as sneaky and defiant. They will begin to act sneaky and defiant…“What else can I do? It’s who I am. Just ask my parents.”

These beliefs might be true sometimes. I doubt if any child is always rebellious, always lazy, or always sneaky and defiant. When these beliefs become the primary way in which we see our children’s misbehavior they create a vicious, downward spiral of negative interactions and negative behaviors.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You could become curious about your children’s behavior. You will still need to discipline. You will still give consequences, but those consequences will change and become more effective.  Think about the process. You observe your children misbehave. You become curious about that misbehavior. Are they rebelling? Being lazy? Acting in defiance? Or something else? After all, the answer to these questions will definitely change my parental response. There is only one way to know the answers, ask. So you begin to engage your children. You start a dialogue about the behavior you just witnessed. You simply begin to explore what might have motivated their behavior. What was their intent? What was going on in their thought life as they considered the behavior? What feelings did they have? Was there anything that triggered the behavior? Was there anything bothering them or exciting them? Suddenly you find yourself having an interesting dialogue about behaviors, limits, and your children. You are learning about their fears as well as their hopes and dreams.  Not only that, you are training them to develop an awareness of their rich inner life of thought, intent, emotion, and motivation. You are teaching them to think before they act. You are teaching them to consider the consequences of an action in relation to the goal they want to achieve. Isn’t that the greater goal of correcting misbehavior? Then your consequence will merely reinforce the lessons learned in relationship with you.

Give up the assumptions and get curious. Start a dialogue with your children. Discover what makes them tick. Teach them how to think before they act by thinking with them.

The Amazing Power of a Label in Family

Labels help us explain things like our occupation, food, or moods. After all, it is much easier to say, “I’m a therapist (or teacher or chemical engineer or accountant)” than it is to explain all the nuances of what you really do.  At the same time, labels can limit us.  Kierkegaard once said, “Once you label me, you negate me.”  Think about this in terms of your family. Perhaps you have two children. For whatever reason, one becomes the “responsible child” and the other “impulsive-child;” or, one is labeled the “problem-child” while the other is your “happy child.” Once we apply any of these labels to our children, we have successfully put them in a box. We come to expect behavior that will match their assigned label. We filter their actions and their words through our expectations. We even filter our response to them through that filter. Since we expect the “responsible child” to do what is expected, we may forget to thank them for taking the responsible action.  On the other hand, we give our “impulsive child” a “left-handed compliment” (“Oh, you finally remembered to do it”) for completing an expected chore.  You could say that our label turns into an expectation that becomes a judgment. That judgment sentences our child to develop a style of character consistent with our expectation. The label has become an integral part of their self-image and that self-image will follow them into adulthood. This same process occurs in response to any label we might use with our family member, whether it be the label of “joker,” “problem-child,” “happy child,” “smart child,” “athlete,” or “musician.” In the end, the label will limit our family member’s overall behavior. After all, it is difficult for a “problem-child” to become known as the “helping-child.” How can we avoid limiting our family members through labels?

·    Do not use global labels. Instead, label specific behaviors. For instance, rather than thinking about your “problem-child” think about specific areas in which your child “gives you problems.” Perhaps your child poses difficulties around specific activities like math homework or eating certain foods. They probably are a pleasure in other areas…which brings us to the next point.

·    Think of exceptions to the label. If you have a “problem-child,” think of all the times they do not pose a difficulty. In what areas do they exhibit strengths and show themselves a “helper” or a “peacemaker.” I realize that it may take effort to think of exceptions after you have told your “messy-child” for the umpteenth time to “clean your room.” But, when you remember examples of the times they were the “helper” or the “problem solver,” you will have a more realistic and holistic view of your child.

·    Keep any labels you use flexible. Realize that your children will change and grow. Any label that seems to fit your child today is temporary…you may find it untrue tomorrow.

·    Provide opportunities for your children to grow. Let them tell the jokes or be the center of attention sometimes and, at other times, the quiet-behind-the-scenes observers. Teach them to be the helper as well as the recipient of help. Encourage them to enjoy athletics to the level they enjoy as well as music, art, and academics. Giving your child the opportunity to fill many roles will help them realize (even expand upon) the complexity of their personality.

As you expand your view of each family member, you open up future possibilities for them. You let them out of the label box to explore other ways of acting in the family and the world. You open up the possibility for them to develop deeper and more complex character…. And, isn’t that the goal of parenting?