He is aggressive. She is shy. He is studious. She is mischievous. Whenever there are children around, even a single child, one is bound to hear the above statements. These statements are made by adults, at times, by parents too, in front of children themselves. This is labeling children.
Labeling is a simplistic way of expressing what a person is seeing of a child’s behaviour. A child is acting in a certain manner, the observer is making a statement basis the evidence available, that too in the presence of the parents themselves and not clandestinely. What can be wrong about it?
Well, all of it. As far as I am concerned, everything about labeling children is outrightly wrong.
How about labeling adults?
We hear all about the children. How s/he is and how s/he is not. Does anyone talk in similar words/terms about an adult? An adult, who is present and is a part of the conversation. Will anyone ever refer to an adult that s/he is stubborn, is a hypocrite, not having certain manners and all such stuff, in her/his presence?
We know as an adult that one should not talk about the other adults regarding their personality traits in their presence. In that case, why do we mete out such a treatment to children? Just because the children do not retaliate and do not describe the adults as a return favour.
This is a double standard of the perk of being an adult – getting away with labeling children but not a fellow adult and surely, not one’s self.
Adults have diverse characteristics, so do have children
One can argue that grown-ups have many facets to their personality. We may not even know about the majority of them as a part of knowing a person. If we do not know the person in entirety, how can we go about describing the person in labels?
This is a valid reason for not getting into labeling adults. In that case, what makes an adult think that s/he knows children in total, in simply one interaction, and ends up branding them?
One might say that s/he spoke about children after multiple interfaces. Again the same question. Do we speak about a fellow adult even after numerous dealings? No. Then, why do we speak about children as a know-all?
Adults have varied moods, so do have children
We know that one can have a bad day at work, freak incidents happen, or maybe, one just got out of the wrong side of the bed. In this case, it is very much possible that we may not see a side of the adult that we are used to. Face it, we behave differently basis our mood swings.
It is not exactly breaking news, but even children have mood swings and not just temper tantrums. Simply put, children are not expected to show-case the same behaviour throughout the day and to all the people, they come across.
Similar to the benefit of the doubt to adults basis their frame of mind, children also deserve respect for their disposition. And, one may not come to a conclusion basis one incident or even several.
There are no good labels, only bad labels
One may say that labeling is a well-meaning exercise if positive labels are used. I beg to differ. Any label, constructive or not so charitable, strait-jackets a child. There is no need for children to behave identically, all through-out.
A responsible child wants to have a good time but being told that s/he is responsible feels under obligation to not be an over-the-top. A studious child wants to play but being told that s/he is studious feels under stress to finish the homework first.
The worst of labeling children – Being told good girl/boy. Adults can always compliment the behaviour of children if they like and be descriptive about it. However, from where does “good” come into the picture?
Getting refered to in a certain manner, even if affirmative does not let the child develop into a multi-faceted personality. Life is all about shades of grey and not black and white; which labeling is contrary to.
An adult looking for acknowledgment of labeling
I find the labeling of my twin daughters annoying, even by well-intentioned adults. What is even more infuriating is the adult passing a remark and then looking expectantly at me for the favourable reception to what s/he has just said.
Seemingly, the adult is pleased with one’s self for making a sense of the child in front of her/him in a single word and wants an affirmation from the parent.
Suffice it to say, I find these conversations most difficult to handle. I have never dared to tell the speaker that few things can be said about her/him as well.
If the parents are right in their way, why not children
It is often said that parents know best about their children. A parent cannot go wrong in the upbringing of their children. Nobody can and should comment about a parent’s parenting.
Similarly, why cannot we contemplate that children are also fine in their way? Why cannot we consider that children should not be commented upon? Why cannot we just be with children without labeling?
Adults, take a break. Give the child a break.