We have all heard the old saying: Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me. The reality of it is that words can be hurtful. Furthermore, words have the power to build a person’s self-esteem or completely destroy a person. Words can have a lasting effect on individuals and that includes our children. As parents, it is crucial for us to be cognizant of the words and labels we use to describe our children. The labels we give our children can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in their lives. As parents we must be very careful to ensure that those labels are not negative.
The use of labels for our children might be something we do without even being aware of the fact that we do it or that we are impacting our children negatively. Many times, the labels are negative although once in a while they can be positive. For example, my husband and I had a list of negative labels we would give our oldest son. Adjectives like, stubborn, inflexible, and my husband’s favorite, Napoleon would be used to refer to our four-year-old son. Although at first glance these labels don’t seem like they are all that bad, in reality they have a negative connotation attached to them. If we keep telling our son that he is stubborn and inflexible, well eventually he will live up to that expectation. The labels we give our children will become internalized and eventually become part of what they believe about themselves. As a result, it’s so crucial that we are aware of the words we use to describe our kids.
According to Forbes (2012), “By the time a child is eight years old, he is typically told seven times more negative messages than positive messages” (p. 55). This is a scary statistic, but one that can be changed if we are cognizant of the messages we send with our words. In our house, my husband and I made a list of all the negative words we use to describe our kids, and we replaced each negative word with a positive word. For example, instead of saying that our son is stubborn, we embrace the fact that he is tenacious or determined. Instead of telling him that he is inflexible, we talk about how traditional or adamant he is. What we found was that we actually felt better when we used positive words to describe our children. This small change has made a big impact within our home and I am certain that it will have a positive impact on my children as they grow.