The labels we give our kids


Do you ever stop and think about the descriptors we assign to our kids on a daily basis?  The subtle messages we send them without realizing it? “Oh, he’s just shy,” we might say to a stranger who just approached our child in the store. Or, “she’s going to be a soccer player!” about a baby who likes to exercise her legs by kicking up a storm. And let’s not get started on the plethora of baby clothes out there with clever, if not inappropriate, sayings. Dressing my son in onesies or tee-shirts that describe him as “Tough Like Daddy” or give the warning “Lock Up Your Daughters!” gives my son a voice I’m not sure I ever want him to have.  And I bet few of us want our “Little Diva” or “Future Ladies Man” to become self-fulfilling prophecies, especially in their teenage years.

I caught myself doing this the other day. Lenny loves to watch the local weather. As soon as he hears the chimes introducing the weather segment on the local news, he’ll stop whatever he’s doing and become captivated by the television. He could be playing, nursing, even napping; it all can wait until Lenny has seen the 7-day forecast.

I find this incredibly amusing. It’s funny what captures our kids’ attentions, and the weather report will do it for Lenny every time. But I said it out loud one day, “Maybe he’ll be a meteorologist!” And I thought about it afterwards—sure, it’s fun to imagine my son as both a scientist and a likeable, chatty TV personality, but what if I keep up this dialog? Am I pigeon-holing him into a future he doesn’t see for himself?

Okay, okay, maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic with this situation, but where does it stop? I don’t want to be that crazy dance mom living vicariously through my kids and forcing the “opportunities I never had as a kid” onto them. My husband and I play this game all the time—maybe Lenny will be an Eagle Scout like Daddy or a dancer like Mommy; maybe he’ll be artistic like Daddy or a bookworm like Mommy; maybe he’ll play baseball like Daddy or take up baking like Mommy. We want to expose him to our interests but allow him to develop his own. Whatever he decides, whether it is karate lessons a few years from now or a career in foreign policy many years from now, I want the choice to be his alone.

Lenny is far too young to understand what my words meant that day, and he probably just likes the graphics of the meteorological map and is smart enough to associate the weather chimes with the pretty colors on the screen. But I will remind myself to be more mindful of the labels I prescribe for Lenny, either consciously or unwittingly. Because I want “Mommy’s Little Cutie” to become whatever he wants to be.

All photo credits genagolas.

9 comments on “The labels we give our kids”

  1. I have to watch out for this very thing too. I want my girl to grow up to be herself, not feel like she’s doing something because of our expectations of her.

  2. Yup. I definitely do this. I think that some of it is going to happen unconsciously of course, but I love that you reminded me to be aware of what I’m saying and how my daughter may be hearing it. Great topic!

  3. Interesting topic. We say things like that to our daughter, but not in a way to limit or label her, more like the opposite. When we say things like “maybe you’ll be an engineer, or a doctor or dancer” it’s more to get her in the mindset that the possibilities are endless! She lights up when we explore possibilities. As long as they know you love and encourage them no matter what they choose in life, that’s what counts. But I do agree some of the cliché onesies and t’s are annoying and more for the adults to get a laugh

  4. YES Gena!! I think about this all the time. And still– I catch myself saying Nate will be a scientist and Josh will be the jock. If they are, then great, but if not, who cares? It’s really hard to not project what we want them to be on to them. As a side note, you’d LOVE the book How To Talk So Your Children Will Listen– it’s geared toward moms of school-aged kids, but there’s a lot of discussion in it about casting children into roles (i.e., “the quiet one”, “the handful”) and how it’s harmful. Interesting read!

  5. What a great post, Gena! First of all, the pictures of Lenny fascinated by the weather are SO CUTE. Isn’t it amazing that someone so young can be so aware of things (other than his parents and eating)? Secondly, you make an excellent point about the labels, especially on the clothing! I never realized how pervasive it was until I read this. When I skype with my sister so she can “visit” with my grandson, she always asks, “What is he advertising today?” because he always wears a shirt announcing something or other. We all love the graphics and funny sayings, but now I’m thinking that I bought him a shirt that says “Mover and Shaker”!! Too much pressure! Does anyone make a shirt that says, “Thoughtful Introvert”?

    1. I would be first in line to by that “Thoughtful Introvert” shirt– boys medium, bright pink please 😉

      1. Sarah, my older son is so similar to your son Nate that I can assure you everything will be all right eventually. They have such wonderful qualities to go along with their life challenges. It makes raising them so interesting — exhausting, but interesting.

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