Are We Labeling Our Kids? - iVillage

A great many posts on the message boards start with a broad description of a child's problem and then ask about a specific diagnosis. For example: "My child is seven years old and won't listen to what his teachers tell him to do. How do I know if he is O.D.D. (oppositional defiant disorder) or A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder)?"

These types of questions concern me, because it appears that we are more interested in attaching a label to a behavior than in understanding its full complexity. Before we reach conclusions and make a diagnosis, we have to ask many important questions. It seems that all of us, parents and professionals, have treated problems as medical that really are behavioral.

Labeling our children in this way presents at least three problems. One, we may be too quick on the trigger and miss important information. Two, we may look for a pill to cure a problem instead of understanding it and helping our to children solve it or solving it as a family. Three, we run the risk that our children might "live up to" their labels, as in, "Oh, I'm a defiant child. I'll show you defiant behavior."

I have sometimes seen children labeled when their behavior is totally normal and age-appropriate, or when they are struggling with predictable development issues. For instance, "I have a defiant child. She is two-and-a-half-years old and won't do what I tell her." Instead of labeling our children, we need to teach them what they are supposed to learn at this particular stage of their lives. Often, there's nothing wrong with the child.

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