I originally set up this blog thinking I would spend my time blogging about the world of HR. Maybe because I was on maternity leave at the time but my first post was related to raising children. I haven’t put fingers to keyboard since this post, primarily because I was savouring the time off with my children, and now I find myself wanting to talk about another child related topic although this one does also apply to work!
My daughter keeps referring to herself as a ‘forgetful head’ because there are a few people around her at school (adults) that use this term when they forget something. At first I laughed it off and told her everyone forgets things sometimes but she seems to be fixated on this ‘label’. So now I find myself wondering whether there are too many ‘labels’ out there that put people in boxes which can be damaging, either to their self esteem or to the picture portrayed of them.
I have a 10 year old step son and over the summer he referred to himself as ‘stupid’ which left my husband and I in shock. Like most of us, when he likes a subject and is interested he does really well and when he isn’t interested he struggles. He is a very well liked boy but is quite quiet and some would say naive but he has a heart of gold. When we talked to him about being ‘stupid’ he said that’s what his friends call him.
Now I don’t think for one minute that his friends constantly berate him or that he is the only one they have, probably quite flippantly, said is stupid but the effect on him has clearly been deep. This added to the recent discussions with my daughter about being a ‘forgetful head’ and watching Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk for what must be the 10th time really got me thinking about the ‘labels’ we use, especially with our children……
How many times have we responded to something our children have said with “don’t be stupid it’s…..” or “no silly you don’t do it like that”? With Sheryl’s speech ringing in my ears I can hear all the things I say to my children that could impact on how they see themselves.
My husband and I continue to deal with the ‘stupid’ and ‘forgetful head’ labels through different methods – letting my stepson read his school report, praising his work, recognising when he has done something well, explaining to my daughter that we all forget things, praising her for good work remembering things she has learned (and pointing out that she has remembered things) and reminiscing about things we have done.
Obviously this doesn’t just apply to children, although if their start in life involves being given a ‘label’ like stupid, forgetful, bossy or trouble they will start to believe it and then struggle to break free from it as they grow…..
As adults we have all probably been given at least one ‘label’ at some point in our lives, usually in a work setting with fellow team members, managers and senior leaders perceptions made up of a plethora of ‘labels’. Personality and team profile questionnaires add to the validity of these ‘labels’ especially when they use exactly the same terms.
These can, depending on the resilience of the individual, have a massive impact on their self confidence. Don’t get me wrong there are some people out there who go through life oblivious to their impact on others who would really benefit from understanding the ‘labels’ placed on them and doing some self-development to try to deal with them.
In reality the world isn’t a fair, nice or mindful environment for anyone and I am certainly not saying that everyone should find a nice way of saying everything – believe me, as someone who is labelled as outspoken, confrontational and says it like it is (I personally don’t see these as bad things providing they are used in the right way at the right time in the right amount) I don’t think everything should be dressed up in roses and pretty bows.
Our outlook on life, our preferences, our likes and dislikes and our personalities are what give us our definitions for different labels – and this will differ from person to person. Is someone challenging or confrontational? Bossy or confident? Efficient or impatient? Outspoken or pushy?
Labels and perceptions are a fact of life, some can be short-lived but extremely hurtful and some have a much longer life-span – these may not be ‘hurtful’ but they can definitely be damaging. I think what I am trying to say is that we really need to be mindful of labels, especially with children, and remember that the labels we give are just as much about us as them.