Changing how Your Child Views Themselves & Freeing Them From their Labels (“How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk”)

Faber & Mazlish

Upon reading this week’s Wisdom In A Pinch book, “How to Talk So Kids will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk”, I never thought about any labels or “roles” that I placed on my children. However, after further thought, I realized how easy labeling people and kids can be. My honest reflection on this matter has lead me to a commitment to change the way I view my kids that moves us both beyond their “labels”. And more importantly, helping them to see themselves in an empowering and positive light and as individuals capable of growing and improving themselves. Find out what advice authors and experts, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, share about “freeing children from playing roles.”

The Consequences of Labeling

It is unnatural in many ways to not label our children. If a child consistently displays certain characteristics over and over, it takes a great deal of restraint to look beyond them and not get exasperated and react accordingly. For example : “You are so stubborn.” Or “You aren’t sharing again. You are selfish.” Or “Can’t you ever sit still and wait quietly? You are so impatient!” Or “I don’t think dance would really be your thing. You’re pretty uncoordinated.”

The result of casting children into “roles” or “labels” is that after having that label reinforced over and over again, eventually the child continues to live up to that view. Not only that, the way that a parent views their child greatly influences the way that they ultimately view themselves. I think many of the limiting beliefs that adults have about themselves are reminiscent of the very labels and beliefs that they heard about themselves as young children. These beliefs can stay with us for a lifetime.

“Sometimes it takes no more than a few words, a look, or a tone of voice to tell you that you’re either ‘slow and stupid,’ ‘a pest’, or a basically likeable and capable person. How your parents think of you can often be communicated in seconds. When you multiply those seconds by hours of daily contact between parents and children you begin to realize how powerfully young people can be influenced by the way their parents view them. Not only are their feelings about themselves affected, but so is their behavior.” – Faber & Mazlish

Faber & Mazlish

How To Move Beyond The Labels

Here are six ways that Faber & Mazlish share in this chapter to help parents and children move past their labels.

Look for opportunities to show the child a new picture of himself or herself.

This requires catching your child in instances when they are operating outside of their “role” or “label”.  For instance, a child that is constantly labeled as late or unorganized, you can say “I see that you already packed your school bag for tomorrow.  That should get you off to an early start tomorrow!”

Put children in situations where they can see themselves differently.

Intentionally put your child in situations where they can see themselves from a different view.  For instance, a child who tends to lose or forget things, you can give them the opportunity to have more responsibility–“Here’s the ticket to the show.  Do you want to put it in your wallet or your jacket pocket?”  Give them the chance to prove to themselves that they are more than their labels, and that you have the confidence in them to change and improve.

Let children overhear you say something positive about them.

This is pretty self-explanatory.  Letting your children hear a parent re-count stories that put them in a positive light, show them that you acknowledge their efforts that are outside their labels and how proud of them you are.

Model the behavior you would like to see.

Having children see parents modeling the desired and pointing it out is a great way to reinforce positive behavior.  I find it particularly helpful to point out to my kids the ways that I struggle as well with some of the same things that they do.  They can see me move past my own limiting beliefs and that personal growth never stops, and we are always a work in progress.  For instance, I don’t always enjoy doing my workouts in the morning–but I will say things like, “This new workout is tough.  But I like to challenge myself so that I can get stronger and better.  I can’t quite do all the exercises, but I will stick to it and it will get easier by the end of the week.”  This message of perseverance, commitment, hard work and thriving on challenge are all values that I want to instill in my kids.

Be a storehouse for your child’s special moments.

Be the memory bank for all the times that your kids have succeeded and moved beyond their limitations and “labels”.  I like to remind my daughter of the time she auditioned for her competitive dance team one year and didn’t make it.  But, she took the advice of her dance teachers, worked hard the following year, auditioned again, and made it on the team.  When she is feeling discouraged about learning something new, or feeling overwhelmed, I like to remind her of that victory and that she is capable of more than she gives herself credit for.  I like to remind my son of the first time he had to learn how to skip for his martial arts class.  He really struggled with this skill–unable to get the skipping rope over his head more than two to three times in a row.  A few months later with lots of fumbling, practice and focus he is a better skipper than me!

In Conclusion …

It really requires practice and a deliberate effort to change views of roles and labels.  But I think it’s really worth the time and energy.  In actuality, parenting this way in general requires more effort.  It’s much easier to revert back to old habits then to learn new ones.  But, I love how the authors put all of this parenting business into perspective and puts proper focus on why we’re doing all this.

“We want to find a way to live with one another so that we can feel good about ourselves and help people we love feel good about themselves.
We want to find a way to live without blame and recrimination.
We want to find a way to be more sensitive to one another’s feelings
We want to find a way to express our irritation or anger without doing damage.
We want to find a way to be respectful of our children’s needs and to be just as respectful of our own needs.
We want to find a way that makes it possible for our children to be caring and responsible.
We want to break the cycle of unhelpful talk that has been handed down from generation to generation, and pass on a different legacy to our children–a way of communicating that they can use for the rest of their lives, with their friends, their coworkers, their parents, their mates, and one day with children of their own.” -Faber & Mazlish

I couldn’t have summed it up any better.  In the process of becoming a better parent, I also realize I am becoming a more compassionate and open-minded person.  What roles do you think your children may be casted in?  Which of the discussed techniques can you see yourself using to help them see themselves differently?  Please share your thoughts and views below.

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