Labels.

“Messy girl, messy girl, Kylie’s a messy girl”, was the tune of the song with which her fellow preschoolers taunted Kylie.  It broke my heart when she shared this little piece of her day with me.  Apparently, Kylie is just as messy at school as she proves to be at home – so much that her classmates made up a song for her.  For weeks after that day, Kylie was overly concerned about making a mess of any sort.  She carried a napkin around with her consistently wiping away perceived “messes” on her face.  It was clear to me that her first session of school bullying broke her tiny spirit.

The taunting song eventually stopped, and Kylie’s beautiful, messy, free spirit returned full force.  The entire episode encouraged me to reflect on the labels that are given to our children – most often by US.  I remembered the numerous times that I joked about her messiness, or made silly comments about needing stock in baby wipes and napkins.  I had nicknames for her like my little “dirty bird” or the cutest little “dirtball” ever.  At the time, it never occurred to me how detrimental all of this may have been.  I meant them in the most endearing, lovable way, yet something so simple amplified by classmates truly crushed her fragile self esteem.

I thought about my labels I grew up with too.  Labels don’t have to be negative traits to have a negative effect.  I was always the “smart” one in my family.  I was enrolled in a gifted program throughout elementary and middle school.  I was continually applauded on my academics by family members and even my extended family.  What could possibly be wrong with labeling your child as the “smart” one?  Well, while the smart kid was in gifted programs with only a handful of classmates, my sisters were “normal” and modeling and winning homecoming pageants.  This is all from the eyes of a child of course, but my immature perspective of the above meant that I was not pretty.  I spent most of my highschool and college years rebelling against the label of “smart” in any way I could, so that maybe I would be “pretty” instead.  Sadly, this smart kid never even finished college.  Do you see the effects of labeling now?

Whether we think our children are beauty pageant material, little Einsteins, or holy terrors, we have to pay attention to the words we speak over them.  Their immature understanding twists even the best of intentions and they allow our words {and the words of others} to define them.  I wish I would have been told that I was pretty as often as I was complimented on my I.Q.  I’m sure the same can be said for my sisters – they probably wish they were told how smart they were as often as their looks stole the show.  I think our parents had the best intentions, focusing on our strongest traits and lifting us up with praise and compliments.  I’m just not convinced that anyone realizes the long term effects that coincide with labeling.  I eventually survived my {perceived} “ugly” adolescence just fine though.  I know that I am beautiful AND smart {and I now know my parents thought the same all along}.

I hope that I am able to convey to Kylie how wonderful she is in so many ways.  I want her to feel valued for all that she has to offer instead of perceiving that her strongest trait is her ONLY trait.  I want her to know that she is the most amazing little girl in my eyes, who occasionally makes a  beautiful mess.

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11 thoughts on “Labels.

  1. Wow. Just. Wow. You couldn’t have said this any better than you did. It is 100% true….kudos.
    P.S. you’ve got the cutest “messy” kid ever!

  2. That was so beautifully said April. Your able to word things so perfectly…everything you said is everything i worry about, feel, want for my daughter & wish i could express to her as well as every other child, in this sometimes cruel world. My Bella is like a sponge right now & i want to do my best to fill that sponge with the wisdom & lessons & unconditional love – in hopes that she will believe in herself & love herself no matter what others say or think. I’ve battled with (and still do) terrible self-esteem & i want so badly for my bella to not only learn to love herself so that she can face life with confidence, but also to teach me that the love my Mom gave me & the never-ending compliments & praise is what should have stuck with me thru life,,,not the hurtful words or heartbreak from people who shouldn’t matter…besides, the ones who hurt me i should feel sorry for bcuz they don’t know what i know…and that is that i am a child of God – He made me & GOD DOESN’T MAKE JUNK! …And there is only beauty beneath Kylies messiness….its what makes her “kylie” & why she is so special!

    • It’s so true that they are little sponges! The most important thing that she ever needs to know is that she is a child of God – you hit the nail on the head with that one! God bless you 🙂

  3. Aww, April. My heart broke for Kylie (and you) reading this. Labels definitely do affect how we live our lives. I am very careful never to use the word ‘fat’ in our house. That is a term that has stuck with me my entire life, and I despise that word with a passion. I see how my 8-year-old looks at her body in the mirror and scrutinizes her face, and it really worries me that she could ever grow up feeling the way I did.
    I love how you always manage to speak so much truth and wisdom in everything you write. 🙂

    • Thank you so much Brittany. I’m boycotting the “F” word {fat} in our house too. I can’t imagine how hard it’s going to be to watch our girls through their teens and all of the labeling that they will most likely endure…

  4. First, you have a truly amazing way with words. This is an amazing representation of how labeling hurts. I recently discussed basically this same thing with my husband. While my parents did compliment us (I have 3 sisters) on everything ranging from athletics to academics they weren’t big on showering us with “you’re so pretty” don’t get me wrong, they did sometimes but usually on special occasions…Easter, Prom, etc. I think that because of that I thought that the only people who were supposed to tell me I was pretty were boys and later men. Fast forward to my oldest sister’s daughter who has been told all of her life by her mom (my sister) how pretty and smart she is and I swear to you, this now 15 year old is the most confident (but not cocky), self assured teenage girl I have ever met. She has never relied on boys to indicate she was pretty, she just knows. I do not fault my parents at all for how I was raised (actually I admire them because I never once felt like they favored one of us over another) but it only affirms that children are affected no matter what ‘box’ they are put into…

  5. Poor little Kylie, I hate that kids tease! Sadly, it’s just a fact of life. Our jobs as parents gets a little rough every now and then, trying to teach them to let things other kids say roll off their backs so they can see themselves in the same beautiful light that we see them in. Every child needs to know they are perfect just the way they are!

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