I recently had a conversation with a friend who relayed a conversation she had with another mom. She told me that in discussing college for their 15-year-old daughters, the other mother said “Oh, my daughter isn’t the college type.” Sigh. Why do we, as parents, do this? Yes, humans I guess are born with a baseline potential, but it is not fixed. It’s been shown intelligence is not static and can be developed. Our brains are flexible, growth machines. This mother basically sent a message to her daughter that she was too stupid to be successful in school…or possibly do many other things. She, in essence, most likely lowered the bar for her daughter’s entire life.
Maybe, you’ve said something like this innocently in the past. I know I’ve caught myself. I think we as parents need to be aware of the flippant things we might say and what message it sends. “Oh, he’s not my athlete.” Just because your 8-year old son is as clumsy as a 3-month old puppy, doesn’t rule him out for becoming athletically inclined. In fact, I believe all human bodies can be athletic. That’s not to say that your clumsy 8-year will become a star athlete, but by labeling him as a non-athlete, you can guarantee he will be more inclined to play video games than to even try to play kick ball (you already told him he sucks). If you leave the labels aside, your little guy may just grow into himself and develop into a fine athlete.
“Oh she’s my girly-girl.” or “Oh she’s not a girly-girl.” What is that? Can’t she just be a girl? What message does this send to a little girl? Either I’m too girly or I’m not girly enough. Either way it is a limiting label. Does a labeled girly-girl now pause after having the impulse to go join a group of kids playing kickball? Wait, does a girly-girl do that? Does the labeled non-girly girl now not want to wear the pretty dress she likes because she’s been told she’s not girly?
I had a conversation with a mom about her then 18-year son finishing his senior year of high school. I congratulated her on her son taking the all-region award for volleyball. She beamed with pride and told me as a little boy he had absolutely no interest in sports. She couldn’t understand it as both parents were active in sports. She said she would roll a ball to him and he would just watch it roll past. About the age of 15 he just took to the sport of volleyball and excelled at it and now plays at a Division I college. Would the outcome have been different if this mom had labeled him as a non-athlete?
How NOT to Crush Your Child’s Potential
- Expect them to be awesome! Tell your kids how smart, beautiful, kind, and loving they are.
- Stop labeling! These labels are carried through their lives. Remember your child is continually developing. Traits he or she is displaying now may not be the same next year.
- When your child does something wrong, address just that action. Don’t label the action as a personality flaw. For example, if your son didn’t take out the trash, don’t tell him he is a lazy kid. Calling him lazy, you can be sure he will continue to be lazy.
Be careful not to create a negative self-fulfilling prophecy in which your expectations about your child eventually lead your child to behave in ways that confirm these expectations. In other words, expect failure, get failure. The good news is you can use self-fulfilling prophecy in a positive way. If you expect your child to excel, they will be more likely to live up to this expectation.
Children are developing physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially. Developing meaning today’s traits are not fixed. So yes, your shy child can grow into an affable social butterfly and your child who struggles in school in third grade can make honor roll in 9th.
Perhaps there are things that have been said to you leaving you with self-limiting beliefs. We as parents need to do our best from imposing self-limiting beliefs on our children. The outside world will do enough of that. Instead of imposing self-limiting beliefs, create positive expectations.