Let Freedom (From Labels) Ring

The 4th of July has always been a favorite holiday of mine, and since I write a parenting blog, it just begs for a post about independence.


Last year, I wrote With Liberty and Pancakes for All, about giving kids more freedom and responsibility so they can become self-sufficient adults.


This year's 4th of July tribute is about freeing our kids from labels, which can restrict them from reaching their full potential.




Growing up, most of us were given labels by our parents, teachers, or peers. Perhaps you were “the shy one” or “the good girl” or “the class clown.”


Labels have a way of sticking — no pun intended — with people for a long time, affecting how they feel about themselves, and shaping their behavior.


Even seemingly innocent or positive labels such as “pretty,” “smart,” and “funny” can become burdens for kids when they don't feel they're living up to those descriptions, or when they think they have to live up to them to avoid rejection.


The real problem with labels is that they make it difficult for kids to evolve. These labels often create self-fulfilling prophecies for children, and can even prevent us from imagining our kids in a different way.


How we classify our children influences the way we (and others) think about and interact with them.


Suppose you heard that a girl in your child's class was a “troublemaker.” You'd probably want your child to steer clear of her. Before even getting a chance to meet her yourself, you'd probably create expectations and beliefs about her based on that label.


One thing that Hal Runkel, author of ScreamFree Parenting says, is that “no one is ever always anything.” Can you see how that's true? Can you see that your “wild” child isn't always wild? Or your shy kid isn't always shy?


Hal taught me to make a small but powerful change in the way I talk to and about my kids. Instead of speaking in absolutes (i.e. “you're so smart” or “you're so stubborn”), I now make an effort to use the words “can be.”


Saying “you can be so smart” or “you sure can be stubborn” doesn't always come naturally or easily. But by altering my language, I'm able to perceive my daughters (and they can see themselves) as people who are capable of change and growth.


In the comments below, share about a label you grew up with and how it affected you. 


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Showing 4 comments
  • Adrienne Bishop

    Hi Pam!

    I was labeled the spazy one and Miss Spill by my mom and it still haunts me. Also I was the smart one too and that was NOT helpful! I really try not to label my kids, and it’s tough because our brain wants to put people in categories. Great post!

    • Pam Howard

      Hey, Adrienne! Just becoming more aware of when and how we label our kids (and ourselves) is the first step. Then we can start catching ourselves in the moment and choosing new thoughts and actions. Thanks for your comment! 😘

  • Kelly

    Wow – I’ve never heard this tip before and I love it! It makes perfect sense and I’ll be implementing it straight away.

    You can be very clever Pam 🙂

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