Ideas & Advice

Could You Unintentionally Be Labeling Your Child?

PublicDomainPictures 17907 / Pixabay

Source: PublicDomainPictures 17907 / Pixabay

I was surprised when I read the email introduction from a parenting researcher with a link to an article she wrote on understanding children’s meltdowns and reactions to different situations. Amy Webb, Ph.D. opened her email with questions … and replied:

“Do you remember a time when your child reacted to a situation in a completely surprising way? Maybe a small scratch on the knee resulted in a half hour collapse? You may have wondered: why did she react so dramatically?

“I clearly remember one of those situations. It was one of the first times I took my oldest son to a park when I was a little kid. He was still jogging trying not to trip on his own. .I thought he would hesitate to interact with new children, especially since he was an only child at the time.

She made it clear that only children are shy. Certainly not all or most of them and certainly not her toddler. Her comment also suggests that children need siblings to interact and be comfortable with their peers, which science refutes.

I have interviewed hundreds of unique children and their parents, and reviewed many studies that explore stereotypes about only children. On the contrary, many only children are outgoing and eager to engage with other children, whether they know them or not, while others may be shy and hesitant to interact with new people. The researcher acknowledged this fact when explaining her son’s interactions in the playground:

“He approached every child on the playground and tried to engage with them, even with his limited vocabulary. I was flabbergasted! It is so not like how I would react.

His implication that children need siblings to learn to socialize with other children is old school. His son’s temperament was already at work as a toddler. He now has a sibling, but he likely would have developed keen social skills on his own, as his youthful demeanor on the playing field declined.

Webb’s article focuses on the unique temperaments of children and points out that “it is important to remember that the types of children’s temperaments described in these theories (eg, ‘difficult’, ‘easy’, ‘slow to warm up ”) are not intended to be labels. in which children can be locked up for life. They are simply categories that help describe different combinations of characteristics or patterns of behavior. While there appears to be a genetic basis for temperament, that doesn’t mean a child is meant to be one way or another. There are many other factors that come into play. “

I agree: every child is exposed to an endless array of experiences that will shape their temperament and the way they function in the world. To have or not to have a sibling is just one of thousands of things that contribute to and shape a child’s development.

Amy Webb’s job is flawless, and her information on The Thoughtful Parent is solidly research-based and extremely helpful to parents. Could it be that in her email this self-describing introvert had projected how she would react in a similar situation? Or maybe she slipped into a now ancient mythology – read: stereotype – that only kids are shy or even lonely, and need siblings to hone their skills so they can play well with others .

How easy it is for anyone to fall into stereotypical thoughts and attitudes, even top-notch professionals who are trained to be careful with stigmatizing comments and innuendoes. Hearing the one-child myths over and over, as we have done for over 100 years, only reinforces them.

In an editorial for The New York Times titled “Your Brain Lies to You”, Sam Wang, professor of neuroscience at Princeton University, and Sandra Aamodt, neuroscientist and co-author with Wang of Welcome to your child’s brain: how the mind grows from conception to college, note, “if their message [in this case, only child stereotypes] is initially memorable, its impression will last long after its debunking. “

Copyright @ 2020 by Susan Newman


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