Your Words Can Shape Your Kid’s Reality

Hi friends, this is a guest blog post from our friend Dr. Hope Seidel. Enjoy!  Xo, Kim

As I’m reading Kim and Penn’s new book, ADHD is Awesome,  I have been thinking a lot about labels. I am reflecting on the way we use language to define other people and the way we use it to define ourselves. I often wonder what those labels cost us; particularly if they aren’t accurate. Penn talks about this perfectly when he says ADHD shouldn’t include the words ‘deficit’ or ‘disorder’. He is so right. 

Because words matter. 

Labeling Your Kids 

As a pediatrician and now full-time parenting coach, I have a front row seat to the labels that parents place on their children. I pay careful attention to the language they use to describe them.

  • They are emotional, sensitive, or anxious…
  • She is picky, strong-willed, or difficult…
  • They aren’t motivated, they are lazy or disrespectful….
  • He is my ‘sweet one’… my ‘challenging one’… or ‘the reason I didn’t have any more’…

It is subtle and sometimes in jest, the way we characterize and label our kids. We think we are just describing who they are or that we are telling the truth. Furthermore, we parent them with this lens – with expectations of how they will behave as their ‘typical’ selves – when these are expectations that they may outgrow or overcome.

Creating Their Inner Voice

Our children hear us describe them with these labels to family members, teachers, and friends to help them be understood, but here is the sticky truth. In doing this, we give our kids a reason to believe that this narrative is their TRUE self. 

We are, in real time, creating THEIR inner voice, and we don’t even realize it. 

If you do this…don’t fret; you aren’t alone. It is almost impossible to avoid. Your parents likely did the same to you. When you come home for the holidays, how often do they treat you as your younger self – like who you were, instead of who you are now?

Shifting Our Language

I like the idea that we could be curious about who our children are BECOMING instead of deciding who they already are. Here are some ways to shift from labeling your kids:

  • Get in the habit of holding two truths. When you describe your child in a certain way, train your brain to give one example of how it isn’t true.  Is your lazy child committed to doing something well?  Is your challenging child the first to help a friend or sibling? If you think your child is perfect, do they sometimes make normal mistakes? 
  • Practice noticing your child. If you can’t see the duality, spend a week looking for it. If you think your child is challenging, spend a week looking for all the ways they don’t argue with you or push your boundaries. If you think your child is “lazy or unmotivated”, can you find one thing in their life that they do with passion? (Even if it is something you aren’t interested in.) I often ask parents when they give me a list of negative attributes about their child: What is going well? What do they do well? 
  • Talk positively in front of them. Say nice things about your children when they are in earshot of the conversation. (i.e. – “You wouldn’t believe what a team player Jack was” or “Wait until I tell you how well Grace handled her disappointment”.) This bolsters their confidence to be SEEN in this light. 
  • Praise character not behavior. Be curious. Our children easily confuse their behavior with their identity; they can easily learn that what they do is who they are. Instead of saying “why do you have to be so difficult or disrespectful,” shift the question to “why are you behaving this way/ arguing with me or yelling?”

Our kids are more than the labels we give them. They are evolving human beings. Let’s give them permission to grow INTO themselves, not limit them by the labels we have chosen.

Learn more about Dr. Hope Seidel and her practice, Parent With Hope.