Labels and diagnosis we give our children – and how they affect them

by | Mar 31, 2018 | Education, Family life

During my years in South America I often observed how children were called by adjectives instead of their names. They were called names like “El gordito”(fat), “flaquito” (slim), “gringo”(western, white skin) , “negro”(black – having a dark skin) etc. In the beginning, as I barely understood enough Spanish to get the meaning of these nicknames, I was perplexed and felt bad for these guys… especially when they were called “fat” instead of the real name.

I have a good Bolivien friend that was called “Patito” (duckling) because as a small child, he walked like a little duck. When I met him many years later, I told him that, today, I probably should  not call him Patito anymore.  He laughed, telling me: “No, today I am “Pato””… (adult Duck).

As strange as this was to me in the beginning, as fast I got used to it – and I loved my own nickname “Gringita” , which I was tenderly given by an elderly lady from Potosí, Bolivia.

In Switzerland, we don’t do that. I can’t ever imagine myself calling my children, friends or colleagues “hi fattie!” or “hi tall-o!”. That would sound ridiculous and rude in our daily language!

However, will still are labeling people, and even our own children.
Maybe we don’t call a girl that has some kilos more than it should, “hey fattie”. Neither do we call someone “White” or “Black” depending on their tone of skin.

But the truth is, if we do not realize how limiting any label is, we will use them anyway.

The German poet Goethe once said:

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being.”

This means, that we should hold  the most positive vision of our child possible in our minds.

These are four choices we can make of how we are going to label our children – ordered from worst to best:

Choice one : Condemning
That would be calling our children names like: “crazy”, “stupid”, “brat”, “nincompoop” and “menace to society”

Choice two: Diagnosing:
Educational labeling like ADD, ADHS, Hypersensitivity, etc.

Choice three: –Finding the positive
active, alert, hunter, visual-spatial oriented, right- hemispheric

Choice four: Emphasizing uniqueness
A unique mix of the positive traits, which make your child so special

I believe that most of my readers agree with me on choice one. We are never meant to call our children “crazy”, “stupid”, “brat”, “nincompoop” and “menace to society”.
We understand that, for children, to hear from an adult they cling to things like “you’re stupid”, “you’re such a nincompoop” is hurtful for a child’s heart and harmful for our relationship with the child.

Maybe you ask yourself why choice two comes right after hurtful labeling. In this book, Amstrong explains : “Proponents of those diagnosis sometimes say that the use of these labels itself is liberating for many parents and children. Having a name put to something that has been troubling them for years, offers a means of controlling and to some extent triumphing over that confusion. It’s not unusual for a parent to say “: I used to think that my child was crazy — that I was crazy.. that my child was lazy and unmotivated.. Now I realize it’s all because he’s ADHD (or some other diagnosis) ! I would agree that the use of the terms ADHD and co. is a step up from these labels” we mentioned above from stage one.

He goes on to explain that we as parents can do better than to reduce our children to a label, as helpful this label may be for us as parents.

As we see by choice three, the label gets more open. However, it is still a stereotype of explaining how the child is. “Yeah, you know, my child does that or that, because he’s a hunter”. Sounds good and there is nothing bad in using these explanation of how a child is.
And if you had years to endure tantrums, power struggles, defiance and other difficulties, then you are doing a great job to label this behavior as “hunter” or “active” instead of calling him names, or reducing his behavior to a diagnosis.

Then, however, there is choice four.
And as a family, we are doing our best to always walk in that choice four.

I know from experience what it means to be labeled. In my family, it was clear to all of us, that one of my sister was “lazy”. That was something “normal” for us to say and we could observe her laziness quite frequently.

My other sister was the “dumb” one. Not really intelligent, struggling at school and not understanding her homework.

I myself, I was the “not normal” one. ADD was my story and it did stick to me like superglue to paper. The first few years out of home (I left home when I was 16) I tried to become “normal”. I hated this diagnosis of ADD, simply because somehow it completely defined who I am.

“Why am I feeling the way I do?”… ” Well, I got an ADD mind”.

“Why do I see things like I do?”… “Well, my ADD makes me to see them like that.”

I fought to become “normal” until the day, when I was maybe 24 years old, when I felt God telling me: “You cannot fight to become something which you already are: “normal in your uniqueness”

Well, today I enjoy my uniqueness. Benny never saw me, and never sees me through the eyes of any label.
In our family, we cultivate this freedom, we celebrate uniqueness. 

There are many situations with our four kids where we could have labeled our children

-One of our children was lying on every occasion.

-A Baby we had was ultra-sensitive to any noise, lights and emotions. That Baby slept only on top of me and even during the days I could not lay him down.

-One of our kids did not want to go anywhere away from us parents, even as he grew older

-Another Baby had such a firm will that he had temper tantrums several times a day.
-One child was scared of anything new and sometimes appeared weak and cowardly

As a family, we decided to never label a child, to never limit a child to something he or she does for a time (most of the above mentioned points lie in the past and are not a reality of that child anymore) we refuse to see our children through the eyes of these challenges, that behavior. 

What we are doing is to learn to understand what each child needs to grow up, to mature, and to become the best it can be, and to celebrate it on his way to maturity in it’s uniqueness.

I look at my life and I know I would never be the woman, the mother, the wife I am today, If I would have accepted that label. I would never have the courage to stand up in my uniqueness and to be that blessing I know I am in others life.

So are you.
You are unique. You are not any diagnosis. Not any label. Don’t let yourself be reduced to a narrow explanation of who you are.
The same goes for your children. They are so much more, so unique so special. Only with that knowledge, they can be that blessing in their uniqueness, which they are intended to be.

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