My husband Dave is the quiet type. He works hard and never ever looks for recognition or attention of any kind. (Internet included … Read the Post »
We’ve all heard it: We’re not supposed to label our kids, right? That’s what the experts say anyways. Still, at some point most of us end up referring to them as “the studious one,” “the athlete,” or “the comedian of the family.” There is something about assigning a label that just seems to come natural to us as humans.
But there is another way that we label our kids without even realizing it, and it can be really dangerous. We speak labels right over our kids; especially when we are correcting them. We use name-calling to provoke change. Or assign a label, subconsciously hoping it might shame our kids into fixing their bad habits or character flaws.
But sadly our name calling usually does just the opposite. In fact, use a label enough times, and it won’t be long before your kid just settles in and owns it. It becomes a part of their identity.
I’ve been as guilty as anyone:
“Your clothes are all over the floor! How lazy can you be?”
“Focus on your schoolwork! You’re so easily distracted.”
“You’re much too critical of your brother.”
“Quit being a brat.”
Sure, we say these things out of frustration. And often, they seem pretty much like plain objective truth. But words can do damage, and even if what I’m saying is the truth (yep, he can certainly be a brat,) calling him one certainly won’t bring out the best in him. I’ve never heard of a naughty kid turn angel because Mom called him a brat enough times.
While I was in California for my girls weekend last month, I was
complaining about sharing with my friends about something in one of my boy’s behavior. I don’t remember what I said, but I must have accidentally used words like lazy or distracted or brat, because they said…Monica Monica Monica, and then went on to ever-so-graciously remind me of the much better way to address my kids. They call it…
Speaking life is finding the positive traits that we see within our kids, and affirming those qualities.
Speaking life is naming out loud the things that you believe your child is becoming…even if they aren’t “there” yet.
Speaking Life is full of love, respect, and a certainty that God is doing a great work in your children’s lives.
Let me be clear: Speaking life isn’t about overlooking negatives or being phony in any way. Many situations still call for appropriate consequences or a word of correction. But this I know: A few powerful words of LIFE to a discouraged child, can often do more good than ten time-outs and a week without video games.
Mom and Dad: Your words are powerful!
When you encourage the positive traits that you do see in your kids, (even if it’s just a spec of a seed of a trait) it will inspire them to grow and develop the good more and more.
If you’ve found yourself in the habit of name calling or reactionary parenting, I encourage you to try using your words to Speak Life. The results might blow your mind. I know it, because I’ve been working on it myself.
To the son with a lazy streak, I can say: “You are a hard worker and self disciplined in so many ways. I really love that about you! Now, I want to see you apply those great qualities to how you take care of your room. Show me what you can do!”
To the one critical of his sibling: “You are an encourager. I have seen you be an encourager to you friends, and you have encouraged me in some really big ways! I can’t wait to catch you encouraging your brother in the same way. Don’t be ripped off of such a powerful gift. Use it!”
To the distracted child: “You have amazing focus when you want to–I’ve seen it! I believe that it won’t be long until you apply that focus to your school work. You’ll be flying through your studies then!”
To the one who acts bratty: “I know you have a sweet heart inside of you. Mommy loves it when you obey and get along. You make me really proud when you make good choices.”
And the really fun part is when you see the kids owning the new names you’ve given them. New identities are born.
Just today: As I walked to my desk to finish this post, I had one more chance to practice this stuff: One of my older boys was frustrated with little Levi (who was being quite naughty toward the big brother.) I heard the older boy handle things poorly, and it made me cringe. We’ve been over this ten million times, (if not more.) So, I called big brother over to talk. In that moment I almost said things like how foolish can you be? Snapping at Levi won’t solve anything! And maybe end it off with a real doozie: “When WILL YOU LEARN!?”
Because trust me: I’ve said those things before. Plenty.
But I couldn’t do that when I’m in the middle of writing this post. So, this is what I said:
“Buddy. You’re better than that. You are smart. You are creative. You have it in you to react to that little guy with patience and wisdom. Please practice being who I KNOW YOU ARE. Ok?”
Because in that moment, my son didn’t need shame. He needed to be reminded of who he is.
And after I said those words, he stood tall, and smiled. And he said “You’re right mom.”
And then he walked away, like a young man who is smart. And creative. And patient. And wise.
Friends: Your kids have amazing traits inside of them. Sure, they are mixed in with all kinds of lazy, bratty, and other less desirable qualities.
But the real question is: What qualities will grow to become their identity?
I believe that the answer is–the ones that are most reinforced.
Here are a few of my favorite names to call out:
Leader. Responsible one. Helper. Hard-worker. Great listener. Brave. Thoughtful. Patient. Obedient. Understanding. Attentive. Creative. Positive. Sincere. Smart. Humble. Generous. Faithful. Industrious. Gentle. Fun-loving. Funny. Kind.
Pick a few new labels to stick on your kids this week and watch them blossom!
Here’s to speaking life!
A couple books you might enjoy:
Shepherding a Child’s Heart
Parenting the Wholehearted Child: Captivating Your Child’s Heart with God’s Extravagant Grace
Parenting With Love And Logic (Updated and Expanded Edition)