Meet my kids: Clumsy, Trouble-maker and Little Miss. Stubborn

Labeling a child, whether it’s negative or positive, can have a lasting effect on a child’s feelings of self-worth.

A child’s behavior doesn’t define who they are,Dad talking to his son nor does it define what each child has to offer the world. If we attach a label to a child, it can shape them in a negative way. For instance, a child who is clumsy may have been referred to as having “two-left feet.” Or they continually said, “Don’t let her carry anything breakable, she’ll trip and it’ll all end up on the floor.” Ask that now grown-up child how that made her feel. What may she have decided to avoid in her life based on the label of clumsy? Brief behavior that ends up placing a child in a category for life seems unfair and extreme, yet this happens to many children.

As a former preschool teacher I often had parents introduce their children by nick-names, “This is Stinky – that’s his nick-name,” or with a preface of, “You can see I’m an older mom, she was our little mistake.” I even had one parent add anecdotal information telling me, “He’s potty trained but usually misses the toilet.” What a negative way to be introduced to your preschool teacher, and each child heard every word. Very young children understand the negative connotation of our words even if they don’t understand the actual words; it’s in our voices and it shows on our faces.

Michigan State University Extension indicates that labeling impacts how a child views himself. We as parents and educators are responsible to make that view positive and realistic. Separate the behavior from the child. Negative labels shame a child leaving them with a “not good enough” feeling. That same feeling may be present if a child is praised unrealistically. Is your child extraordinary for receiving an “A” on the test, or was it the result of hard work? Praising a child for their effort is much more appropriate than labeling your child as the smartest kid in the world. An unrealistic view of themselves could lead to constant disappointment when the child finds out that everybody doesn’t see them the same way, and again this could cause feeling “good enough.” Labeling may limit the possibilities a child believes they have.

A goal of childhood is to help build healthy self-worth and self-esteem. Children require our help with this skill and respond and believe what they are told. Children will believe in themselves and become confident and successful. There is no better gift to give a child.

For more information on building a child’s self-worth/self-esteem you may want to read the book, Parents Do Make a Difference, by Michele Borba, Ed.D. or visit

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