Labels are Not For Children

“Being Labeled is like being judged for life. It is like your future is laid out for you already”.
~ Author Unknown

We have always tried not to put labels on our children. The personalities are completely different from each other we love that about them. We never want them to think that one is better or more endearing than another or that one is weak vs strong or shy vs outgoing etc.

Labels are Not for Children

I remember as a child I was always called the shy, quiet and sensible one whilst my brother was the adventurous yet naughty one and my sister the fun-loving tom boy. I hated being put into my role and found it so difficult to break out of as an adult.

 Faber and Mazlish, authors of Siblings Without Rivalry  (Affiliate link) state that:

“We need to prepare our children for life outside the family. And life demands that we assume many roles. We need to know how to care for and be cared for; how to be leaders and followers; how to be serious and a little ‘wild’; how to live with disorder and how to create order. Why limit our children? Why not encourage all of them to take chances, explore their potential, discover strengths they never dreamed lay within them.”

We had a little incident here the other day which really brought home how important it is not to confuse the behaviour of a toddler in the highly volatile 1-3 year age bracket with their actual personality and demeanour. Even more important is to ensure we do not label or even perceive them as such things as shy, helpless, dominant, aggressive, victim, bully etc.

It is a short story but one which stopped us in our tracks and has given us a little more insight into the morphing minds of our children. Our oldest child, Lucy (2.5 years) has always been a very active, fun loving little girl who craves attention and approval. She was put into the role of ‘big sister’ when she was only 13 months old and has had some difficulty accepting this role and all it entails.

Her younger sister, Penny (1.5 years) has borne the brunt of some unmet needs in Lucy and has had to deal with some physical and verbal altercations with her older sister from a young age.

Of course, we have always been well aware of the emotions charging through these situations and have used all manner of methods to ensure a) Penny is kept safe and b) Lucy is helped through her feelings of anger and rage with acknowledgements and understanding. We haven’t always got it right but we are slowly refining our methods and we see improvements on a daily basis.

Penny is an independent and goal-oriented child. She shows remarkable perseverance and determination for a child her age and will try many different ways of achieving the outcome she desires before giving up or demanding help. This determination has seen her become quite frustrated when her play is interrupted by her rambunctious older sister who seems to have a desire to control all of Penny’s movements including her play and care giving moments. It has therefore been easy to fall into the trap of seeing Penny as the helpless victim and Lucy as the dominating perpetrator however, as we are slowly realising, not all is as it seems.

This afternoon, Penny had climbed into my husband’s ute in the driveway, soon after he arrived home from work. Penny absolutely loves playing in the cars, standing up in the drivers seat pretending to drive and climbing in and out of the car seats in the back. Today, she chose to sit in Lucy’s car seat and was happily doing so for about 10 minutes when Lucy, noticing Penny playing in there, started heading towards the open door of the ute (the front passenger door). As she climbed in, my husband and I signalled to each other that we had better get over there as Lucy was not going to be happy that Penny was in her seat. We quickly moved over, ready to sportscast the ensuing battle and protect Penny from any potential lashings but were taken aback by the five occurrences which followed.

1. Lucy made her way between the two front seats, passed by Penny sitting in her seat and happily sat down in Penny’s car seat. No battle!

2. Penny immediately began crying hysterically because Lucy was sitting in her seat. In the small breath pauses between each ear piercing cry, I managed to sportscast the situation as it occurred. “Penny, you don’t want Lucy to sit in your seat.” Pause for more crying “You are very upset that Lucy is sitting in your seat.” Pause and wait

3. Lucy climbs out of Penny’s seat and says: “Here you go, Penny”.

4. Penny shuffled out of Lucy’s seat and across to hers whilst Lucy took her position in her own car seat.

5. Both girls played and giggled in there until it was time for us to come and get them to take them to their baths.

This situation showed a side of our two children that reinforces how important it is not to pigeon hole them into roles. Whilst of course they each have their own innate and unique personalities, what they are learning each time they face each other in an altercation or come up against a hardship on a day to day basis is helping to shape the natures that they will ultimately display.

Our roles as parents here are to support them through each crisis calmly and respectfully without treating one as the victim and the other as the perpetrator. At their age, there is always an underlying, untapped reason as to why they are displaying undesirable behaviour so by shaming them or making them feel like the bad guy, we are closing a little opportunity to understand them better and connect with them more deeply.

Furthermore, by treating the other as the victim, removing them from the situation or saying, “Poor you” etc it reinforces to them that they can’t cope with these high stress situations without you and makes them feel even more like a victim.

“Children are born with different personality traits. But as parents we have the power to influence those traits, to give nature a helping hand. Let’s use our power wisely. Let’s not place our children into roles that will defeat them.”

~Faber and Mazlish, Siblings Without Rivalry

We have clearly seen today that Penny is no victim. She is strong in her own right and willing to stand up for herself. Similarly, Lucy is not a selfish aggressor who thinks only of herself. They are both learning from each other and from us as their parents and we are confident they will both grow up to be empathetic, strong and confident young women, completely capable of fulfilling any dream, desire or role they choose.

My parenting is inspired by Magda Gerber’s RIE approach. If you are interested in learning more you can find some good information here or I highly recommend these books (affiliate links)

Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect (2nd Edition)  ~ Magda Gerber

Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities — From the Very Start
~ Magda Gerber

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting  ~ Janet Lansbury

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame ~ Janet Lansbury

Labels are Not for Children

25 thoughts on “Labels are Not For Children

  1. Jennifer

    What a nice email

    I have two girls 12 months apart and it’s been well awful!

    This sounds like my two, the younger one very much knows how to get her own way and I feel so sorry for my bigger one

    Thanks for this


    Sent from my iPad

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      Hi Jenny, firstly, I hear you! It can be really tough having two children close in age! Hang in there, it is bound to get better. How old are your two?
      It sounds like your little one has a really strong personality and has developed great coping strategies that suits her needs. This is fabulous! I am sure your older one will too develop the resilience to cope with the issues faced daily. All you need to do is to remain neutral and support each of them through their struggles. Simple huh? Good luck with it. Let me know how you go or any success stories you have. I am always looking for more strategies for bringing up my two so close in age.

  2. Kate

    This is interesting and thought provoking. Without meaning to I have probably put my kids into roles based on their behaviour. This is a good reminder that there are many facets to a personality and the way that you behave sometimes doesn’t determine who you are inside all the time. Love the quotes.

  3. Danya Banya

    My second is only 12 months old and already I’ve heard people try to label her as similar or different to her sister. It frustrates me when people talk to me. about my kids, in front of them! But I’m still working out ways to redirect the conversation tactfully – perhaps you could do a post providing some tips?

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      I get frustrated about that too, Danya. I know my kids listen and absorb everything they hear so I’m always trying to divert the conversation or neutralise the comments so they don’t feel pigeon holed. Great idea to do a post on providing tips in that situation. I certainly don’t have all the answers but I will put my thinking cap on! Thanks!

  4. katepickle

    We get a lot of comparison and labeling with twins – mostly from complete strangers. “Who is the bossy one?” is the question most people ask… and really, they both can be bossy and more assertive at times, and both can be passive at times, because, just like anyone else, there is more to them than one dominant trait.

    So lovely to read your story and see your children showing you, in their own way, who they are.

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      Thanks Kate! I can’t even imagine how that must be for you having twins. Do you say that to the people who ask about your twins or do you feel obliged to give a definite answer? It can be really hard when dealing with other people who try to label our kids as we want to be respectful to them but don’t want to encourage the pigeon holing. I’d love to hear how you cope with it. xx

  5. Jode

    I really enjoyed reading this post and your observations. i have become very aware of lebelling since having our twins and it is all too easy to do, especially when strangers do it like Kate above mentioned!Thanks so much for sharing with us x

  6. Debs

    As a teacher, you would have seen first hand how labels can affect children. Unfortunately it is often the other children that label a child as being “naughty” or “dumb” or a “bad boy” etc and those kinds of things can really stick with children and really affect their behaviour. I loved your reminder on not labelling and remembering that our children are capable of all these different emotions etc. and we should be encouraging and valuing that.

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      Deb, I dread the day that my girls go to school and get exposed to all that! It makes my heart ache to see the effects kids can have on each other at school. Hopefully by then I can instil enough self confidence in my kids that they are able to cope with what other children say to them and still stride forward! Thank you for commenting!

  7. Kelly Burstow

    Having a child with special needs, I have worked hard at this (and continue to be an avocate for her in the schooling setting). I love hearing about how you love each child as a whole. Just beautiful!

  8. Nae Peters

    Great post! I enjoyed it.
    I need to be more conscious about labels myself, its diffic I have noticed time & time again that people label my son shy and some even associating it negatively “why is he so shy, he needs to join in more?” it really annoys me because its a personality trait not a choice & it does not define him.
    Every child is different.

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      Thank you Nae! Yep we get the ‘shy’ comment here too. I always try to rephrase it for the commenter to something like ‘Oh, she’s just sussing out her environment and the people in it before she throws herself into the mix’. It usually stops people in their tracks and I hope, lets my little ones know that it is ok to cling to my leg for as long as they need to! Yes, every child is different and beautiful just as they are!

  9. Bek @ Just For Daisy

    What a great post. Isn’t it nice when our children surprise us and show us that assumptions should never be made.
    Most of all as parents we must guide our children and give them the tools to cope in life hey, rather than assume how they’ll act or behave and force them to do as we feel they should.

  10. Jen Barry

    I love your thoughts on this Kate. Thank you for sharing your story. I always find something in your writing relevant for us (even though we only have one child so far). Can I make a small request? I would love to pin this article and it would make it slightly easier if you had a picture in each post you did on your site. Just one main picture would do! Thanks.

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