Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Overcoming the Trap of Labeling: How to Be Your Child's Best Advocate

It’s easy to fall into the trap of labeling kids. Even if you tend to be an incredibly positive person, you might have gotten yourself caught in a swirl of negative labeling when it comes to dealing with your child. Starting today, you can choose to stop using words that project a negative image of your child. -- Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

Many of us fail to realize that child advocacy can actually start in our own homes.
Before the birth of my own son, I felt the Lord impressing on my heart, “Marla, be all there for your kids.” I obeyed His call by deciding that I would (as much as possible) be fully present with and for my children.

You may have one or more children who have been labeled as “strong-willed” or “spirited.” Maybe you have children who deal with ADD or ADHD. Perhaps they have special needs. If so, they need you to be their cheerleader. They need you to love, admire, and respect them, and they also need you to help others see them as you do: as beautiful, gifted, loved, and full of potential.

Negative labels can be soul-killers, both emotionally and physically.

They make children feel bad, ashamed, hurt, and useless. And they wound parents, too, calling forth emotions of fear, confusion, resentment, shame, embarrassment, exhaustion, and anger.

I’ll never forget the time a church worker called my two-year-old son “aggressive.” I was stunned. My sweet, exuberant, and fun-loving preemie, “aggressive”? Nothing awakens that “Mama Bear” instinct quicker than someone attacking her cubs!

However, I wanted to have a humble, teachable spirit. My son sometimes tossed his sippy cup on the floor or had trouble sharing toys; he may have displayed some aggressive behavior, but I knew that he was not aggressive at heart.

David and I partnered in prayer to help Evan work through his social and behavioral issues. He also began speech therapy with two incredible therapists. He loved it, and it helped him tremendously.

In addition, my husband and I began doing research to help Evan in his emotional and spiritual development. I read a book called Raising Your Spirited Child that was particularly insightful. The author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka wrote, “Spirited kids manage to garner an overabundance of awful, miserable, and poorly designed labels . . . Once an expectation is set, even if it isn’t accurate, we tend to act in ways that are consistent with that expectation. Surprisingly often, the result is that the expectation, as if by magic, comes true. This is called the Pygmalion Effect and has been well documented by researchers.”

She continued, “It’s easy to fall into the trap of labeling kids. Even if you tend to be an incredibly positive person, you might have gotten yourself caught in a swirl of negative labeling when it comes to dealing with your child. Starting today, you can choose to stop using words that project a negative image of your child.”

The author led a support group for parents of spirited children, many of them with special needs. In her group, she asked the parents to list the labels they (and others) had given to their children. They listed terms such as “argumentative,” “unpredictable,” “aggressive,” “explosive,” “demanding,” and “picky.” She then asked the parents to look over the list of “lousy labels” and discover the hidden potential and strengths in their child based on each of those terms.
The author wrote, “Focusing on the positive labels may even allow you to recognize that your child really is the one you dreamed of having . . . As you pull your toddler out of the entertainment center, you can say, ‘You really are curious. Let’s see what you can discover over here in the kitchen cupboard instead.’”

As I read and prayed about my son, I clearly heard God say, “Marla, reject those negative labels.” Evan has always had a happy, exuberant personality. As I read about the nine characteristic temperament traits that most “strong-willed children” possess, I realized that the description did not fit Evan at all. (They are: negative persistence, high intensity, irregularity, distractibility, high energy and activity level, oversensitivity, low adaptability, high reactivity, and an often- cranky mood.) God flooded my soul with peace as I focused on helping my son develop self-control and godly behaviors without pigeonholing him with negative labels.

Many of the world’s brightest and most influential people struggled to overcome negative labels, learning disorders, and other hindrances during their lives. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Winston Churchill were all labeled “dumb” by teachers in their early lives.
What a tragedy!

One of my most treasured memories of my mom is that she was always there for us. Yes, she could have chosen to take a job outside the home. In fact, this often seemed like the only option that would provide for our financial needs. But she trusted God and stayed home, and the Lord proved Himself faithful by meeting every single one of our needs. Mom served as our advocate and champion. Whether we liked it or not, she always wanted to know:
  • where we were going,
  • who we were going with,
  • what we were planning to do,
  • and whose parents were going to be there.
Mom took responsibility for the care, protection, spiritual growth, and well-being of her children. She had high standards, but whenever I had a need or was dealing with an issue, I knew she would be there for me. And she still is.

I recently saw a quote that said, “Home is where your mom is.” For me, that’s still true.
What a great goal for us to have as we become Prayer Warrior Moms ourselves—for our presence and our prayers to make any place “home” for our kids. Let them know you’ll always be in their corner, cheering them on to victory.

Your Turn
Today, pray for the Lord to give you wisdom about specific, creative ways that you can be your kids’ advocate and champion. What are examples you have used to promote child advocacy in your home and help them overcome the negative labels that may have been imposed upon them?


Disclaimer: I did not write this post, I found it encouraging and wanted to share it. The post is by Marla Alupoaicei, from Prayer Warrior Mom
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