You Labeled Me, I Label You

I was thinking about our daughters tonight. Danielle from the blog 6yearmed, which I eagerly follow, told another touching and poignant story about young twin sisters, one of which is dying. She changes the names when she tells her stories and the names she chose caught me off guard and made me think about my daughters. More specifically, it reminded me of the belief my wife and I hold that children these days are too often labeled by the adults in their lives. You might have noticed it, too. If you weren't so lazy you'd be done by now.

How could you get poor marks on that exam, are you stupid?

You're doing this to me because you hate me.

At the end of the song The Unforgiven by Metallica, the narrator says, "You labeled me. I label you. And I dub thee Unforgiven." And this is exactly how it happens. We as parents label our children. The way we form our words. The frequency with which we use certain phrases. The ratio of praise and encouragement over scorn and disappointment. Sometimes, with no words at all even, we can say to them...

You're a failure.

You're a disappointment.

You're not good enough for me.

But it doesn't stop with our children. Like the song says, if you label someone, especially a child on a long enough timeline, you train them to label others and to label you right back. 

It is for this reason Dewdette and I took care in selecting names, middle names actually, for our daughters. We searched for nouns that are also character traits. Before our girls could even understand a word or a facial expression from us, we decided to choose names for them to help set a foundation. Before they ever had the opportunity to disappoint us, we wanted them to know what we inherently believed about them. Like Babe Ruth stepping up to the plate and pointing out to left field so that God and everyone will be certain about where he intends to send the next strike that crosses the plate, we too have pointed our fingers out into the distance towards the words Grace and Faith.

But it doesn't stop there. We exercise our use of labels constantly. And the terrific part is, they're all true! It's not like we're lying. Dewdette and I are really expressing how we see our daughters. The point, the hard bit, is to make the time to actually do it. To get the ratios right. To jog back the frequency on some phrases. To jog up the frequency on others.

Look how lovely you are today.

Good morning, Beautiful!

That's using your noodle! You're such a smart girl.

Did you notice how thoughtful she is all the time?

You are such a good helper!

Today would be an excellent day to make a list of labels that you would like to pin on the subconscious mind of your children. Write down 3-5 character traits you want them to grow up knowing about themselves and extending to their fellow man. The above phrases are the actual ones we use in our household. If you don't want to take the time to make your own list, you can borrow ours.

When we label our children we do two things. First, we convince them that what say about them is true about them. Second, we teach them to label others in the same manner.

So I ask you, what labels have you been giving your children?