Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"My Name is Messy"

Have you ever considered what a label does? On canned goods, it allows us to have an understanding about what is inside the metal can we can't see through. On a person at a conference or training, it shares a name. On food packaging, it shows how many calories and nutrients the item contains. Really helpful, right? Sure! But labeling people by their actions, especially children, is not so good.

Years ago, one of my sisters was working with the children under 12 years old at church. She was their music leader and worked hard every week to provide fun, spiritual songs and activities. The ward she was attending was fairly new to her, so she didn't know all of the children's names. One Sunday she leaned down to a small girl sitting in the front row and asked her what her name was. The girl replied, "Today my mom said my name is Messy." Her sad eyes and down turned mouth was enough to plant in my sister's mind the bad idea of negative labels, especially on children.

She shared this story with me and our mom and it struck a chord. I will never forget this story, even though it has been over 17 years since she told it. I often wonder what happened to that little girl and what labels her parents give her today. I don't mean to judge the parents of this little girl harshly, but if I could meet them I would like to ask them what they were thinking.

After my own son was born I was careful not to negatively label him, even in jest. I have noticed that my son (now a teenager) is particularly sensitive to the words people use about him and I feel that my sister's experience was not just for her benefit, but for mine and my son's benefit as well. (That's not to suggest I am a perfect mother by any means. I have made plenty of mistakes!)

That being said, there are good labels we can use---helpful, smart, happy, kind, fun, honest, brave, good, fast, strong, etc. These labels, when used sincerely, can help a child to grow and develop positively. One thing I have noticed from teaching is that children will grow into just about any label you give them.

Copyright 2013 Corrina L. Terry
Photo credit: Corrina L. Terry

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