Ditch the labels: 4 steps to develop your child’s self-confidence

Identities are forged early in life. Labels often cement them, not always for the good.

What were your labels growing up? Were you the good one, the fat one, the skinny one, the smart one, the athlete? The one with ADD, the outspoken one, the shy one, the messy one, the risk-taker?

When asked to describe yourself, many of you will use a childhood label. Maybe you feel like you’ve been boxed in by labels your whole life.

The upside of certain labels, is that they are shorthand to describe a bigger picture. In conversation, we no longer have to say that someone is inattentive, can’t sit still or is impulsive. Now we call it ADHD. Everyone has a basic idea of what that means.

The problem arises when a label becomes your identity. I am the older of two children. I was the quiet one, the good one, the sensitive one. Still am. Everyone joked that all it took was a sideways look to make me cry.

My brother is the one who pushed back, the rebel, the risk-taker (relatively speaking). He talked about buying a motorcycle and joining the military. (He bought the motorcycle, but did not enlist).

One year he had to go to summer school, not because the subject was so difficult, but because he slacked off. (I could never let that happen; I was ‘the good one’. Trust me, it’s not always a blessing.)

Unfortunately, the bottom line is that when you label children they usually take it to heart and see themselves as the label. That identity can become deeply ingrained, defining their place in family and relationships, and how they show up in the world. The children learn how they are seen by others, without learning who they really are.

Children take their cues from the adults in their life. They trust that those adults are speaking the truth and they take it seriously. And they carry it for life.

You want your children to have a wonderful life, full of variety, accomplishments and satisfying relationships. You tell them they can have, be and do anything. Putting them in a box with labels creates just the opposite, stunting their emotional growth and keeping them from uncovering their strengths. Staying in the box keeps them from discovering what makes them unique. (Watch the video of “Little Boxes” by Pete Seeger.)

Some children take the label and use it as an excuse for withdrawing or not applying themselves:

  • I’m such a klutz, I’ll never be any good at football. Why bother?
  • ADD/LD is why I can’t do this.
  • I’m shy, so why put myself in the uncomfortable position of meeting new people?
  • I’m the screw-up in the family. They don’t believe I’ll do anything good. If my own family doesn’t believe in me, I guess it must be true.

You wouldn’t intentionally put your children down or stifle their growth. This can happen if you use labels.

Practice this instead:

1. Observe yourself. Notice when you are using any kind of label.

2. Observe the kids, carefully. Watch for verbal, physical and energetic changes.

3. Notice patterns. Which of your child’s attitudes and behaviors trigger you to use the label?

4. Change your perspective and words. Remember that words are powerful and that your child is doing the best she can (even though it may not seem that way). Respond with an observation of a specific instance, rather than a generalization (the label).

What does #4 sound like?

Replace: You’re such a procrastinator. Why can’t you just get it done?

With: You seem to have trouble getting started. What would be helpful right now

Replace: You’re shy.

With: I see how uncomfortable you are with people you don’t know well.

If there’s something familiar about these examples, it’s because you’ve seen this technique before. It’s called acknowledging, or reflecting. You’re describing what you see at a given moment. There is no judgment, criticism or fixing. There is no labeling, simply a statement of fact. The key is going from the global to the specific and how you express it.

When you stop using labels, you let your child out of the box. She is freer to explore herself and her world, without self-judgment and limiting beliefs.

Originally posted on Fern Weiss.

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Here are some our favorite "just because" gifts to give our hardworking mama friends.

New Mother face + body care duo

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Kombucha making kit

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What could be a more perfect gift for the health-obsessed friend? This kombucha making kit comes with everything you need to brew your own homemade green tea kombucha. They'll think this is the tastiest gift ever.


Laetitia lipstick

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Jigsaw puzzle

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Matilda's Bloombox

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If we have to be stuck inside, we might as well have some gorgeous florals to brighten up the space. Matilda's Bloombox locally sources blooms, delivers them to her door and provides simple tips on how to arrange it into a beautiful bouquet.


'I Am Enough' bracelet

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Let this dainty bracelet serve as a constant reminder to your bestie that she is enough. She'll wear this on her wrist and read this daily oath to herself, "I Am Enough."


Glow assorted teas

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This tea gift box set covers the entire spectrum of flavors from sweet to spicy. Individually packaged in beautiful tins, your gal pal will feel like a queen sipping her morning tea. Originally $40, this set is currently on sale for just $24. We'll take two, please.


Find your voice journal

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Journaling is a great way to ease anxiety and will slow your bestie's racing mind before bed. This gift is perfect for first time journalists and includes prompts, daily quotes and coloring pages to help her unlock her potential and find her voice.


Premium frother

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This gift is fitting for your latte-sipping bestie who can't go a day without her coffee. All she has to do is add two scoops of collagen to her favorite drink, and she'll have a perfectly foamy drink ready in seconds. Skipping the drive-thru line has never been so easy!


Bath soak infusion kit

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Say hello to hydration! She'll be feeling smooth and relaxed as ever after a long bath soaking in these salts. This vegan + cruelty-free set incorporates dead sea salt and dehydrated coconut milk powder for an ultra hydrating experience.


Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

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It's a hard-earned title she answers to a hundred times per day. Whether she's new to the club or a seasoned professional, this delicate script 'mama' necklace is guaranteed to be a perfect fit.


Superfood honey

Beekeeper's Naturals B.Powered honey

With a lack of sleep and jam-packed days, getting through the afternoon can be a real challenge. Send her a powerful pick-me-up in the form of a therapeutic blend of royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis and raw honey. It makes the ideal companion for tea, smoothies, yogurt or even on its on.


Calming midnight mask with melatonin

Who doesn't deserve a reminder to pamper themself every once in awhile? Even better, this mask does all its work at night while you're sleeping with no extra effort needed. It's an amazing plant-powered antioxidant-packed mask that has melatonin, wild dandelion leaf and hyaluronic acid to rehydrate, repair and reset facial skin. It's so good, you might want to gift it to yourself. We won't tell, mama.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


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