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Why Labeling Hurts our Kids

My son doesn’t always listen to me. In fact, somedays (like today) he actively does things I tell him not to (like running away from me and throwing sand at my face). It’s definitely not always fun, but one thing I am doing differently today is resisting the narrative that my child is “difficult” or “defiant”. 




These are words I hear parents employ pretty regularly to describe their children. And I get it. We are all exhausted and just want something to go more smoothly in our lives! But here’s the thing, thinking of my child as defiant or difficult has never helped me approach them with more compassion or even with a more solution oriented approach. It’s usually made me feel more resentful and exasperated.


Ugh, so what’s a parent to do?


  1.  Admit that this s**t is hard. We certainly aren’t going to get through this with some toxic positivity bologna. Raising children is not always sunshines and rainbows and we don’t need to pretend it is! Stuffing down and ignoring our own emotions and needs will never work in the long run.


  1. Look for the need underneath the behavior.  When I understand my child has a need they are trying to express it helps me see them in a more positive light. If I know that my child is struggling with intense disappointment at leaving the park, I am more likely to be compassionate about his immature way of expressing it (instead of being confused and resentful of his behavior).


  1. Name their strengths. By far, my child was the most expressive of his friend group, when it came to letting me know he was not happy leaving. Instead of calling him things like “spoiled” or “bratty”, I acknowledged who God has made him to be: strong-willed, deeply feeling, and expressive. Some kids were made to be the peacemakers, this one was made to be a world-shaker! And I am okay with that. Because I know it’s my job to reign him in when he needs it and teach him good values, not judge his every misstep. 


So let’s leave the old way of labeling kids behind and focus on loving them and helping them where they are. They don’t have to wear the shame of being associated with only their worst moments, and neither do we. 


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