Let's Label Behaviors, Not People

I've slipped into a pattern recently. I've started saying, "good boy" when a little one does as he's asked. I cringe a bit every time. Not only because praising kids can be counter productive but also because I think labels are limiting. 

She's shy. He's aggressive. What a good helper. You're a born leader. I'm a picky eater. 

Labels steal our opportunity to explore all the roles we can play. And we know deep down they're false. Those of us called "studious" are at times equally rebellious. A family's "athlete" might be itching to take up the drums.

But the real risk in labels is that they're convincing. The "aggressive kid" knows what he's called - knows people expect aggressive behavior from him - will most likely meet their expectation and lo and behold - hit. 

So I resolve to label behaviors instead of people.

"Nice work cleaning up the blocks" instead of "good boy." 
"It was unkind when you pulled that ball out of her hand" instead of "don't be mean."
"She'd like to stay quiet for a while" instead of "she's shy" 

The thing is, the words we choose have real power with the kids we're raising. They can shape what those kids believe about who they are and what they can become. Kids should get to try out as many different things as they want before choosing what's best for them. Play soccer, join chess club, follow the rules, break the rules, say something mean (and find out how yucky it feels), tell hilarious jokes, practice karate. They're way too young to start crossing options off their list of possibilities.