As a parent and child care coach, I have always been cautious with regard to labeling and/or stereotyping children. Labeling and stereotyping children can have a lasting effect that cannot not only damage their self esteem, but can also affect their adult lives.

Thinking back on my own childhood, I remember a teacher telling me I was the worst artist she’d ever seen. She announced this in front of the entire class and I was completely humiliated. Seeing her as an authority figure I believed her and I saw myself as a horrible artist for many years. Although I loved to draw, I found myself losing interest and didn’t draw until I had children of my own. Looking back at those pictures I drew as a child, I realized there was nothing wrong with my drawings, but there was something wrong with that teacher!

How many of you can recall situations in your childhood in which you were labeled as “un-artistic”, “ugly”, “lazy”, “something’s wrong with him /her” or worse. How do those labels affect you now as an adult? Do you find yourself believing those labels that were so easily attached to you as a child?

Here’s another example of the lasting effects of labeling or stereotyping children can have: A beautiful woman entered the classroom and would not make eye contact with any other adults. The class was on building self esteem. When asked if she could change one thing about herself, she replied: “My Nose. I would get a nose job.” The others attending the class gasped. This woman was absolutely beautiful and from what they could see, there was nothing wrong with her nose! The second question posed was “Why?” The beautiful woman responded, “Because I have a huge nose and if it was smaller, I would be happier with my appearance.” Again the others gasped! Her nose was not HUGE, it was nearly perfect! The third question posed was “Why do you think your nose is huge?” The beautiful woman replied: “I was told that as a child. Everyone felt that way about my nose.”

As it turned out, this beautiful woman had a relative that had told her throughout her childhood that she was ugly and had a huge, hideous nose. Because of that, she spent the first 30 years of her life believing that about herself and absolutely abhorring her very lovely appearance. Being labeled as a child, not only kept her from reaching her true potential; it robbed her of her self esteem. With some counseling the beautiful woman began to see her own beauty and realized how damaging those comments she received as a child had been.

As providers and parents, I encourage you to use caution when speaking of a concern about your child or those in your care. If you need to speak to a parent or a doctor, do so in private, so the children cannot hear what you are talking about.

Use positive reinforcement and kind words on a daily basis. As the caregiver, you have the ability to make or break the self esteem of those in your care. Be careful what you say and what terms you use.