How Labels Harm Children !

By Nabila Haris: Pharmacist by profession with a rich working experience in Hospital Pharmacy Services at The Aga Khan University Hospital and Liaquat National Hospital. Strongly believes that raising children on permanent values is our only chance at growth, peace and prosperity.

You throw a stick far away and your dog runs to get it for you. He lays it down in front of you, tail wagging, expecting a well-deserved pat, which you give saying ‘good boy!’ That sounds about right. But when you use the same words for your son or your daughter on doing something you asked for, better replace it with a thank you!

From the very beginning in schools, the teachers define two distinct categories of children: ‘good and bad’, making it easier for them to ensure class discipline as children behave in the desired way. The commonly found traits of good boy/girl include being quiet, obeying the teacher, not leaving the seat unless told to, not teasing anyone, being polite, etc. etc. While the list of bad boy/girl traits includes the exact opposites; talking, disobeying the teacher, standing-up or not sitting still, teasing others and laughing, being loud, etc. etc. The concept is very popular among teachers and parents and is probably prevalent worldwide just because it brings immediate results. The teachers can control the majority of the children (because we know, not all of them fall into that trap) and the parents can induce the desirable behaviours in children. The problem with putting such labels should be self-evident. We turn the good ones into robots, letting them point fingers at the ‘bad’ ones, making the latter feel bad about themselves. What makes a child strive to be in the ‘good’ category is his natural preference to be liked and to make his parents and the teachers happy.

Children naturally tend to be loud, fidgety and have a curiosity that drives them to touch, feel and explore things around them. Expecting them to sit still for a long time (read 10 minutes) is probably equal to torture. Enforcing such standards of ‘good boy/girl’ is unrealistic and might hinder the growth of their mental capacities and affect them emotionally. Compliance takes the place of curiosity, questioning and reasoning. Creativity is hampered. There’s one long lasting impact of using the good/bad labels which we oversee. We narrow down the possibilities regarding human behaviour to only two. And as we grow, we begin to see others through the coloured glasses we were handed as children. We either like someone or don’t; the others are either good or bad. We’re either happy or sad. There’s no other option we can choose from. There’s always this ‘either-or’ approach. We run out of alternatives.

This tactic is bound to fail as the child grows and matures but not without leaving an underlying impact mentioned above. With humans, always remember: quick-fix and easy way is not the lasting way. We cannot sow a seed overnight and expect a flower blooming in the morning but we can get artificial ones any time we want. We must ask ourselves what results are we really looking for? Are we willing to invest in the time and effort to raise children whose sound value system has been ingrained and comes from within? Or are we just in a hurry to let them grow up fast and bother us as little as possible? Both choices will be our own but we will not be able to escape the consequences.

Let us not confuse the children by trying to make the shy boy/ girl talk while silencing the one who loves talking. We cannot blend the attributes of all the children and divide them equally among them to get a homogenous set of students. We can help them understand that if they talk during their school work, they will not be able to finish it on time and the other children might also be disturbed by the noise. And that it’s easier for you to understand what they say when they’re not shouting. If they don’t share, no one else will share with them. So a child grows on the value system that teaches him that there’s a time to be silent and a time to be loud, a time to be angry and a time to be soft, a time to stand ground and a time to give in. And with humans, there’s an unlimited possibility of positive traits every individual can have and has. It might not be in line with your own opinion, but then that’s exactly what it is; your opinion.

Our society is currently prevalent with judges; the older you get, the more keen a judge you become. We compare our children with others, whether in the looks, behaviours, grades or anything and everything. By doing so, we cannot escape instilling in them the very art of criticizing which the children start applying as soon as they reach their teens. The society, on the whole, evaluates every incident or happening under the shadow of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. None of us can escape the cloud of negativity and polarization that engulfs us. We can put a stop to it only if we wish and try.

The result of ‘not using the labels’ will be individuals with a much broader mindset, always looking for alternatives that they believe must be out there. Where, instead of wasting energy in pointing fingers and making comparisons, people are striving for meaningful solutions to problems that are real. A society where people not only respect each other’s differences but also see them as strengths when working together. A society where diversity is reflected just as in the natural world around us and respected and appreciated.

November 15, 2017

2,587 responses on "How Labels Harm Children !"

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