Today is an appropriate day to be writing about labels. I spent most of last night consoling my teething baby, at least the fourth all-nighter I have pulled with sleepless children in the past three weeks. With an average four or five hours of sleep each night, my reserve is wearing thin, I only have vague memories of being rested. Needless to say, negative labeling sounds real tempting right now. Labeling to explain my situation to others, labeling to express frustration, or simply because I can’t think straight.
Parents who have low-key children have no blasted idea how much work it takes to train spirited children, let alone giving birth to three of them in less than four years! Glen and I have worked hard to teach our children appropriate behavior, so now everyone at church and most of our family think we have the most pleasant, easy-going children they’ve met. Of course they’re offering a compliment when they speak highly of our kids, but the selfish part of me (especially on little sleep) makes me want the kids to express their difficult side in public so people see how much work it takes to raise them.
But that’s the fatigue talking. I actually see my children in a positive light most of the time because I like them and many aspects of their personalities. Which brings me to labeling, and the importance of positive labels on spirited children, my second post in my series on raising sprited kids.
We all give negative labels to our kids when our tongues slip. We try to justify it, but we know deep down it’s wrong. We know it reinforces difficult behavior, lowers self-esteem, and puts emotional distance between our children and us. Calling names and diagnosing disorders is easy to do out of frustration, but if you are trying to enhance life with your spirited kids you need to avoid it like the plague.
Positive labeling on the other hand, or, labeling a behavior as an expression of a tempermental trait (whether talking to yourself or to your child) helps you to remain objective and to communicate understanding. I have heard of specific instances when suddenly deciding to label positively has resulted in an immediate change for the better in a child’s behavior.
Not only does it open the lines of communication, using positive labels helps spirited children to recognize their temperment traits and learn self-control. Stanley Turecki, author of The Difficult Child says, “Instead of reacting to what you think the child is doing to you, you try to make a firm but kind statement related to his temperment”.
Keep the statements simple and kind, and remain calm. Here are a few examples:
- “I know it’s very hard for you to sit still”
- “I know it’s hard for you to pay attention”
- “I know this sweater doesn’t feel right”
- “I know that new places make you feel nervous”
- “I know you are very busy”
If you show your child that you are not angry at them, that you understand they’re not trying to be difficult, they will begin to respond more positively to you as well. You are on the same team!
Accept your child as an individual with special characteristics. Point out to them the good things you see in them. This kind of labeling will be internalized by them as self-acceptance, and one day, a positive self-image.
Stay tuned for part three of this series, Temperments of the Spirited Child, in which I will share more positive labeling ideas based on specific temperment traits, as well as begin talking about management techniques based on the things that make your child unique.