Be Careful Not to Label Children

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Be careful not to label children – I took my daughter with me to an appointment when she was very young. A lady there said “How are you?” to my daughter as my daughter stood there frozen and unresponsive. She is quite outgoing with other kids, but she gets quiet sometimes when addressed by adults. I quickly fell into the common parenting trap with the age-old explanation “She’s a bit shy.”


A few minutes later, when my daughter was no longer in ear shot, the woman said to me, “She’s not shy.  And, if I were you, I would be careful about saying that in front of her, because eventually, she will believe it and ultimately end up shy, even if she never really was.”

Be Careful Not to Label Children

On an average day, I would have taken offense, told the lady not to tell me how to raise my kids, and given her one more “You know nothing about me and my children” before turning around and heading out the door. But, there was something kind and genuine about this person. I did not take offense to what she said at all, but rather, thought long and hard about it. I have to be careful not to label children.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. Why am I speaking for my daughter, calling her shy right in front of her, and basically labeling her so she becomes more and more quiet and eventually tells others she is shy because she believes it herself? If you tell someone she is a certain type of personality often enough, she is going to believe it. I even heard my daughter use it as an excuse once when I asked her to tell somebody a message for me. “I can’t, I’m too shy,” she said.

Instead of labeling with non-progressive terms, we should refrain unless we have something positive to say. What does my daughter have to gain from being shy? Why would I want to reinforce or promote this personality trait – even if I don’t consider shyness necessarily a negative one.

When I told another mom the story about how we have to be careful not to label children, she completely understood. She said her parents used to say the same thing about her, until she ended up never wanting to leave her room because she was “too shy” to socialize.

After it happened, I tried to figure out why I even said what I said. My daughter is quite social. She always wants to be with other kids, and she interacts very well and maturely with them. Yes, she has her quiet moments, but I think I reacted more out of embarrassment that she was not responding to the lady who was talking to her. It’s a reaction that many parents are guilty of. For some reason, we feel the need to explain our children’s actions to others. Maybe next time, I will just help my daughter feel comfortable to respond, whether I put my hand on her shoulder and repeat the question, or give her some kind of prompt. I don’t want to answer for her, and I don’t want to label her. I want her to grow into the person she is and will become, without my misguiding her, whether she is shy or she isn’t.

I am grateful for the woman’s observation and input. I guess sometimes an outsider’s comments can be helpful. Be Careful Not to Label Children, lesson learned.

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