What's in a Label? - Moving Beyond Behavior Labels
Steph Jensen, MS, LPC - Boys Town National Training
What was labeled lazy or defiant might actually have been an inability to see the board or make sense of letters. The contents of our kids can change over time as they develop. As our kids develop, we need to make sure that we are reevaluating and changing any labels or plans assigned to them. Learn more about the developing brain and how this can lead to behavior problems in our FREE webinar, The Adolescent Brain: “Temporary Adolescent Insanity.”
When it comes to behavior, it may be more helpful to use descriptions rather than labels. Describing behavior is more specific than labeling and communicates what you can actually see. For example, rather than using a label like lazy, discuss what you see. Use something like, “Amanda, during class I noticed you weren’t working on your math homework with everyone else. Instead you had your head down on your desk. Is there something wrong?” Being more specific about describing the actual behavior you see may help you see beyond the label and get to the true problem. In the case of Amanda, you may find out that her grandmother is ill and she has been struggling to sleep lately.
As with any tool, labels can be used to help improve the situation or make it much worse. When labels are appropriately applied to a behavior rather than the child behind the behavior, we can help our kids succeed. Let these tips help labels work for you and your students instead of against everyone involved!
Disrespectful, rude, defiant, lazy, inappropriate, irresponsible and out-of-control are all common labels we may be quick to assign to our most challenging students. While these labels may be correct in describing our perceptions of these difficult behaviors, they are rarely an accurate assessment of the child who is engaging in these behaviors. Childhood, by definition, is a time of change, challenges and growth. Children are experiencing many physical, mental and emotional changes as they progress through their natural growth and development. They are also in the process of learning how to cope with, adapt and relate to others and the world around them.
During this tumultuous time, children may engage in impulsive, irrational and hurtful behaviors. This is not a reflection on the child, but rather a natural progression toward maturity. In addition to the expected challenges of childhood development, one in five school age children have a diagnosable mental health disorder1. One in 10 youth have serious mental health problems that are severe enough to impair how they function at home, in school or in the community1. Educators are an invaluable resource for facilitating student development academically—and behaviorally.
Here are tips to decoding common labels we use with kids and their behavior:
we can expect from a child and guide us in strategies to prepare the child for the best possible outcomes focusing on their strengths. If we use the label to identify problems, deficits and flaws we’re using them wrong.