|   Jun 16, 2016

  How often do we address our children "Good or Bad"? How many times a day do we say to them- Good children eat food, good children don't lie, good children obey adults, good children do this, good children do that. And vice a versa, only bad children hit, only bad children shout, bad children don't finish food, you are so stubborn, and the list is actually never ending. We as parents actually expect our children to be exactly what we want them to be and without a second thought, are quick and adept at slipping these labels out of our lips. 

Most often we had been labeled by our parents and elders in the family or school or teachers. We tend to raise our children the way we have been raised.  Generally speaking we don't even have the awareness about the negative consequences of this 'good girl- bad girl; good boy -bad boy' or labeling philosophy. In our efforts to ingrain all good values and behaviours in our children, we forget how this would affect their thinking about themselves and others.  For eg. When your child gets angry and throws a tantrum and repeats this behaviour over and over again, it can be really frustrating. The parents usually may not understand what else to do. And here the parents slip. The slip is telling the child that you are 'bad' or 'stubborn' or a 'troublemaker'. The child  in turn tries to prove the label which is coming from a significant person and thus lives up to the label by behaving in that manner. 

Furthermore, they start seeing themselves as bad and label themselves, based on one situation or behaviour, thus developing a negative view of self on the whole. This is a circular thinking-behaviour pattern. 
On the other side, a child can be so caught up with a negative label that it can destroy his self worth through shame. A 10 year old client coming to me for therapy, had a persistent demand on herself that she had to prove herself to be 'good' in all situations and specifically In the eyes of her mother. She could not understand that 'being fallible is human'  as she wanted an approval from her mother always. She felt overwhelmed and couldn't accept that she could make any mistakes. The shame of being bad was so prominent in her that it led her to escaping the responsibility for every problem in her life and easily and quickly blaming her friends, teachers or others for it. More so, she couldnt accept that she had anger issues or displayed rude behaviour due to which she had trouble in her relationships. So deep rooted was her thinking to be called only a 'good girl' that she failed to see her own wrong doings and had excuses for everything. This further made her a 'bad girl' to everyone. 

Children change and develop but unfortunately labels tend to stick. This can make it hard for children to leave behind negative reputations and start afresh.

How about getting away from good and bad. It's hard to do as we are habitual of it and it's been all around for a very long time. Change is difficult but necessary. What I am suggesting here is to free your child of the label of good or bad. Rather point the good or the bad behaviour. Separate the deed and the doer. For example when your child hits his younger sibling, tell him "hitting is a bad or unhelpful BEHAVIOUR". Tell him "it's not nice to hit. When we don't like something or someone's behaviour, we don't hit". Tell him what to do or what's a much better way to behave like requesting the sibling to share. If your child is sitting and waiting patiently for you to finish your work before he is been taken for play, rather than saying good boy, you can objectify and point his good BEHAVIOUR. When he knows waiting patiently is a GOOD BEHAVIOUR he would be able to associate this behaviour in other areas of his life as well. 

Objectifying the behaviour is an encouraging aspect of parenting and breaks the cycle of good and bad labels. It can help start a different way of helping your child to know how to make healthy choices. Ultimately kids do need to know right from wrong and they still need to know that they are capable of doing great things. Asking children what they think of their current action and in what better way they could have dealt with the situation helps them to think maturely and is a great disciplining tool in comparison to punishment. 

The biggest disadvantage of labeling is that parents become role models to children to label others. The kids learn to label others from the parents and society at large.  
He is a bad boy as he didn't share!
She is a bad girl as she lied to me! 
This cognitive or thinking error of labeling others goes a long way with us in life. It becomes the reason behind all conflicts and distressed emotions like anger, guilt, hurt etc which stem from it. For eg. Just think - If you attach a big label of 'mean' for a person cause he didn't share his notes, you are bound to get very angry or hurt. And consequently affects our relationship with that person. 

Flavor of gossip accentuates with labeling. Your neighbour eloped with his ex, you are quick to attach a label ' immoral' 'cunning' etc, and see how the grapevine grows. We will have enough to talk and spread rumors about even though nothing is related to our life. 

It takes mindfulness and awareness to change this long lasting habit of labeling. It takes a lot of practice as a parent to think differently and deal with the child in taxing situations. In my opinion, life would be simple and more peaceful without these labels of good or bad. It would be more mentally and spiritually healthy and each step towards our new thinking of 'un-labeling' would take us closer to accepting ourselves and our children as fallible and ultimately towards HAPPINESS. 

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