Are you guilty of labeling a child? Most of us know not to call a child “bad,” but instead we describe the bad thing he did. We know not to call a child a “bully,” but to explain what he did and how it made the other child feel. But what about calling a child “shy?” Or saying she is “moody?” Although less obviously bad, these labels can also be highly problematic.
Sometimes we can even label children in our heads, even if we don’t necessarily ever mention the label out loud or to the child. Maybe you work with multiple children and there is one that you always feel is the “bully child.” Without realizing it, you may treat that child differently, or not set aside enough one-on-one time with him. Labeling a child, positively or negatively, is not good. How can you get rid of this label? Well, find something you love about this child and make sure to congratulate him for his good behavior. Go out of your way to engage in a fun activity that revolves around his current interests. Be prepared for the recurrence of the behavior that you dissapprove of, but this time use positive discipline so that the activity can be continued in a fun manner.
Do you tell other parents that a child you are caring for is shy when you introduce him and he does not respond to their friendly hellos? When you label a child and he hears it often, he soon will get a very clear message:
Something is not right. I am not behaving in a way that my nanny likes. There must be something wrong with me.
Children experience many labels given to them by others during their childhood. These labels, whether or not they seem appropriate, creates insecurity and doubt in a child. Just because a child may be acting shy in a certain moment does not mean that she is a “shy” child, and you should try to avoid labeling her as such. A child isn’t moody all the time, but at the moment may not be in a good mood. Since we are very used to being labeled and labeling, let’s look for a way to describe what is happening in a shy scenario (bulleted below). Keep in mind, they are first and foremost a child, who behaves in response to their perceptions of both their internal and external worlds. Our first response should be one of kindness, empathy, and educated understanding of how they are feeling at the moment.
- The child does not know the people around him (or does not remember them).
- Since this child’s gears are always turning, he may be watching the interactions of children carefully.
- This child needs a little longer to feel comfortable with people or situations before saying hello.
So when this child takes a few minutes to warm up to new people and situations, instead of telling your friends that he is shy, you might say:
- He likes to take his time to get used to new people.
- When he is ready, he will respond.
- He is taking it all in.
See how you can change your words to be more descriptive with your child’s actions rather than just labeling him as shy. If you ever hear other caregivers announcing their child to you as shy, fussy, or another label, you can positively change the tone of the conversation by politely saying, “I sometimes feel tired in the mornings. Is that how you feel right now?” Remember, labels may be fashionable on clothing these days, but they are never a good idea for children!
Judith Merlin is the founder and owner of A Friend of the Family Staffing Corporation, one of the oldest and largest agencies of its kind. Judi has been a member of the International Nanny Association since 1986 and in 1993 was a founding member of The Association of Premier Nanny Agencies (APNA), and National Nanny Appreciation Week. She currently serves as Ethics Chairperson with APNA and created The Agency Advantage program with Barbara Seigel. National Nanny Appreciation Week was originally created by Judi, working with a group of other veteran agency owners. Judi is the proud mother of four fabulous adult children and grandmother to 7 fantastic grandchildren!