3 Ways Labeling Hurts Your Kids

Teachers talk to each other about that “problem child” in their class. Parents worry because their son is hyperactive, or their daughter is shy. As adults, we often label children based on their behaviors or traits.

How  do these labels affect children? Here are a few reasons that adults should be cautious about labeling children.

1. Labeling changes the way kids see themselves

The way parents or teachers label a child can have a lasting impact on how that child sees him or herself.

Social scientist Charles Horton Cooley developed the idea of the “looking glass self” back in 1902, which explains that a big part of self-concept is developed by how we think other people perceive us. (1). As Child Counselor Dr. Brenna Hicks explains, “Children develop and define their sense of self by processing what others tell them about who they are, what they are good at, how they behave and so on” (2).

So when an adult says a child is naughty, shy, or aggressive, that label will start to become a part of his or her identity, for better or for worse.

2. Labeling changes the way you treat your kids

When you attach labels to children, it doesn’t just affect the way kids think of themselves. It also affects what you expect and how you treat them — which can in turn influence who they become.

Scientists Rosenthal and Jacobson illustrated this in a famous study back in 1965.3 By simply telling teachers that certain randomly selected students were “bloomers,” those “bloomers” ended up making significant academic improvements compared to other kids.

Rosenthal and Jacobson explain, “When teachers expected that certain children would show greater intellectual development, those children did show greater intellectual development”(3). Perhaps even subconsciously, that label changed the way teachers treated the students.

Unfortunately, the same is true with negative labels. When we think of children in negative terms, we come to expect negative things. And just like the students in the experiment, children with negative labels may start to live up to those labels.

3. Labeling limits your kids.

Even if the labels you give your kids aren’t necessarily negative (labels like shy, athletic, or creative), these labels can still be harmful by putting your child in a box.

While avoiding negative labels is good, it’s also important to avoid limiting your child with seemingly positive labels, too.

Growing up, I was never considered athletic. Maybe musical or smart, but athletic was one label I didn’t have. And so I thought that I’d simply missed out on the genetic lottery, that others were destined to be the stars of gym class while I unconfidently tried to stay out of the way.

Only after years of assuming I was un-athletic did I come to discover my love of running. While I’m still no star athlete, I’ve come to learn that I enjoy exercising and can even do pretty well in a 5k race. Perhaps if I had not been pinned as a non-athlete, I could have enjoyed this hobby for even longer.

Avoid the Label

When children are labeled, it can affect their sense of self and really limit them. Not only that, but giving a negative label can make you expect the worst.

So next time you talk about your child and start to give a label, remember this post and steer clear of labeling your child!

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Picture retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/baseball-fence-cleveland-park-boy-1929542/.


1. Looking glass self. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.psychologyconcepts.com/looking-glass-self/

2. Hicks, B. (2008, January 30). The problem with labeling children. Retrieved from http://thekidcounselor.com/2008/01/the-problem-with-labeling-children/

3. Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom: Teacher expectations and pupils’ intellectual development. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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