Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Encouraging Children #4

#4 Separate the Deed from the Doer

For those of you coming late to this blog, I've been slowly (very slowly) moving through the 19 ways Alyson Schafer claims we can be more encouraging to our children in her book Honey, I Wrecked the Kids.  I want to explore what she advocates and think about the way it may or may not apply to me and our house.  #4 is much easier for me than some of the others.  Schafer essentially wants parents to describe the child's behavior using adverbs rather than adjectives, naming the action, not the child.  For example, don't say the child is mean, say she is acting meanly.  This divorces the action from the child's identity.  The child isn't mean, just acting that way at that moment. 

I've always known that parents shouldn't attach labels to their small children because they can stick.  I've never liked when parents say one child is the smart one and the other is the athletic one.  Worse than smart or athletic are other labels parents like to attach: wild, stubborn, "slow."  Children hear these labels and adopt them, or start to believe them.  You can read the wildly popular post by Single Dad Laughing on bullying and his take on the affect labels can have on people, especially children.

Now parents aren't bullies in the way described in Single Dad Laughing's post (though sadly some are), but repeating a label can be adopted by a child, especially when used by someone who has such influence on a child.  I'm not claiming to be totally innocent here.  I have had moments when I've called my children feral.  Sometimes I do think they act like they've been raised by a pack of wolves.  But I am fairly careful not to ascribe attributes to my boys.

It's awkward when others try to label the boys, especially when they aren't around our family enough to see the full range of the boys personalities.  Someone might say one twin is more outgoing or more serious, but the boys defy classification like that, as I suspect most children do.  It just depends on the day, the context, what they had for breakfast, what shirt they are wearing, if they're teething, sick, and if they believe they are a super hero or a fairy.  Labeling just isn't that easy.  But it would be easy to call names and label them.  We could ascribe roles that they may fulfill, but I'd rather they find themselves rather than grow into a label we have lazily applied.

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