Labels Lead to Limits

Having kids is the best thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also right up there with one of the most terrifying. There’s this whole idea that my husband and I are completely in charge of these people, and most of what they learn will come directly from us. Holy.freaking.cow. I had to get an official certificate to teach, but I don’t need one for THIS?

So…I should remember to NOT pick my nose or have bad dinner table habits. I should definitely stop twirling my hair and start wearing shoes more often. I could probably relax a bit on the incessant caffeine intake thing I’ve got going on because if they follow my lead, I’ll have three Starbucks junkies by the time the boys are five and a half (caramel macchiato, anyone?).

And then there’s the big stuff… I should be attentive to the way I feel about and treat my own body. I should show kindness in the hardest situations. I should be positive and set an example of what it looks like to work hard and accomplish goals.

I’ve noticed recently that our boys are picking up on things that my husband and I say and do, and it is not always in the most positive ways. If you don’t know my twins, I have to say that they are about as different as twins can come. Not only do they look nothing alike, their personalities would never be found on the same page in any book. They both have great strengths, and they both have skills and traits they are still figuring out. It’s been interesting to watch this develop because when one sees a strength in his brother, it’s quite obvious that he deliberately chooses to stay away from that strength whether it’s social skills, athletics, or anything in between. Because of this, their strengths are on opposite sides of the spectrum which has made things like kindergarten readiness tests or the soccer team trickier than I expected.

This past weekend at a birthday party we were sitting around the table eating birthday cake and ice cream with some of our neighbors. We didn’t know most of the extended family there. The boys went into their normal routines: James talking to anyone and telling tall tales as the cake and ice cream dripped down his face and all over his shirt, Elliot sitting back quietly and eating his cake and ice cream with more etiquette than the queen herself. He even asked me if he could be excused from the kid table when all of the other four kids had left to rip apart the presents without even thinking about it.

Later on at the party, I overheard Elliot telling one of the people we didn’t know that James was the “loud and crazy one”, but he (Elliot) is the “calm one”. I didn’t really know how to address the situation because my first thought was that Elliot isn’t exactly wrong. However, I didn’t like the way it sat with me.

snow cones

This led me to really think about how I talk about the boys (and Evie, too). Am I pigeonholing my kids into acting a certain way? Am I the one throwing out the stereotypes in my own house for my own kids? What else have they heard me say and internalized? So is James scared of the dark because I expect him to be?

I think we unknowingly label the people around us quite often, and it bothered me when I realized that I was even doing it in my own home. Whether or not James is overly empathetic and imaginative or Elliot is calm and old-souled, I want it to happen because that’s who they are. Not because I’ve created some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy for them.

It’s impossible for kids to develop completely free of influence from their parents (and the influence is obviously a very positive thing), but I think it’s worth it to give our labels another thought. Not just with our families but with our lives outside of our homes as well. If we label someone as “the smart one”, he could end up feeling a lot of pressure to live up to that title. If we label someone as “the silly one”, she might be less likely to buckle down and focus on an activity that requires a more serious attitude.

As parents, we are our childrens’ truths. Every action and word is immediately absorbed; the example we set with our lives is what they know best. If we ate ice cream every day at 7 am, they would think that was how the world works because we, their parents, teachers, guardians work this way and taught them. We’ve all heard it before and the longer I’m a parent (and I’ll add in teacher) I think this statement rings true. Let’s all remember how valuable and potent it is that we teach by example.

This weekend was my little wake-up call to make sure that I don’t force my kids into a certain personality. I will guide them and help them grow, but I don’t want to limit goals and opportunities because of what they hear me say.  So just remember that those little ears are listening. Let’s make sure what we say promotes a positive outlook for those who are our biggest fans.

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