Children are too complicated to have simple labels

“People are too complicated to have simple labels” wrote Philip Pullman in The Amber Spyglass.  This isn’t the first time that an author has managed, quite succinctly, to summarise my exact feelings. Children are too complicated to have simple labels.

My ex is worried.  He is worried about our son, Cygnet, because Cygnet is “quiet”. Cygnet is “shy”.  What I think my ex is really worried about is that Cygnet is inheriting what my ex perceives to be his parents’ negative character traits.  Cygnet’s father is an introvert and he is ashamed to be one.  I am an introvert and my ex was ashamed of me. 

children are too complicated

The thing is, Cygnet isn’t actually that “quiet”.  He can be quiet, but after a day at nursery he is hyperactive.  He is so noisy that I worry that my neighbours from the flat downstairs will come up and complain.  Cygnet can be “quiet” when he wants to be. He plays imaginatively on his own.  He loves being read to and he can play with his cars for hours. 

Cygnet will also be the first child at gym club to run around like a lunatic, ignoring all instruction from the teacher.  He joins in songs at nursery, and plays in the sand with other children.  He joins older children on the roundabout and follows them when they climb up the big slide (much to the older children’s annoyance). 

The beauty and wonder in a child’s personality and character, comes from the fact that they have so many different personalities and characters.  Their personalities are fluid. They adapt to different situations.  They can be reticent one minute and cavalier the next.  Children are too complicated to fit the simple labels that we tend to place on everyone in society.  By labelling our children, we are missing all of the other facets of their personalities. 

What worries me most about my ex’s tendency to label Cygnet is the influencing power of labels. Labels become fixed and restrictive.  Labels can lead to children taking on identities which are not entirely authentic of themselves.  We become our labels.  Language is a powerful tool and we need to be careful of it.   By giving our children a label, whatever that label may be, we can be inadvertently influencing them to act in line with that label.  Language creates the world we live in. 

Children are too complicated to have simple labels. Language can be too restrictive to define our children.  

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36 Comments

  1. March 16, 2017 / 3:32 pm

    I agree with this 100%. I hate it when people call children ‘naughty’ ‘stupid’ and various other negative names for this exact reason. Children perceive that they are and so become them. It’s the same with ‘shy’ and other names with less negative connotations as they can still impact. Cygnet sounds perfectly normal to me x

    • thesingleswan
      March 16, 2017 / 8:45 pm

      Hi Hannah,

      Lovely to hear from you again. Thanks for your comment. Pen x

  2. March 18, 2017 / 10:15 pm

    Cygnet sounds like he is exactly who he is meant to be, a great and pretty typical kid! It is easy to worry though and to let it consume you. My first son was very shy for years but a few years on he is the life and soul of everything!

    Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday
    Rachel George, Ordinary Hopes recently posted…The alternative “Dear Zoo”My Profile

    • thesingleswan
      March 18, 2017 / 10:27 pm

      Thank you Rachel. Pen x

  3. March 18, 2017 / 10:21 pm

    We are too quick to label, and introverts are awesome, if you ask me! #KCACOLS
    Lydia C. Lee recently posted…AutumnMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      March 18, 2017 / 10:26 pm

      Introverts are awesome! Pen x

  4. March 18, 2017 / 10:22 pm

    Really interesting post!
    My daughter is an extreme case, in that we’ve been actively searching for a ‘label’ for her for 5 years!, She has significant developmental and sensory disabilities, and rightly or wrongly, a label can help access support, therapy and education that is right for her. But at the same time I’ve been glad of the lack of a label as it stops preconceptions and allows her to be who she will be!

    • thesingleswan
      March 18, 2017 / 10:25 pm

      Oh goodness, this is really tough. I understand that a label would help access support, therapy and education. Good luck. Pen x

      • March 18, 2017 / 10:41 pm

        Thank you! We’ve actually just found that elusive label in the last few months, and it’s so rare it doesn’t mean much to anyone! So thankfully still no preconceptions! #KCACOLS
        Inclusive Home recently posted…Mother’s Day InterviewMy Profile

        • thesingleswan
          March 19, 2017 / 10:35 am

          Brilliant. Let us know how you go. Good luck. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      March 19, 2017 / 10:32 am

      Thanks for your comment. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      March 19, 2017 / 10:50 pm

      I totally agree. Thanks for your comment. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      March 19, 2017 / 10:49 pm

      Thanks for commenting. x

  5. March 20, 2017 / 7:00 am

    Too right! My little boy is shy and I do find myself holding onto him a little more tightly, explaining about his shyness to others. Yesterday my friend came, he doesn’t see her often but she knows he’s a little unsure of people outside his family, so I didn’t feel the need to explain. Within minutes of her arrival, he was showing her his cars and pretending to drink tea from her empty cup shouting “Stacy’s tea!” and laughing like he was teasing her!

    #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      March 20, 2017 / 8:27 pm

      Brilliant. We often live our children’s labels more than they do. thanks for your comment. Pen x

  6. March 20, 2017 / 10:58 am

    This really resonates with me “Children are too complicated to have simple labels” My daughter can be 20 different labels in one hour so to give her one would be limiting! #AnythingGoes

    • thesingleswan
      March 20, 2017 / 8:26 pm

      True. thanks for your comment. Pen x

  7. March 20, 2017 / 1:39 pm

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being shy or introverted. I always say a quiet child is an observant one. Or such as been my own experience with children. I’m putting my money on Cygnet winning a Nobel Peace Prize. Keep me posted. 😉

    #AnythingGoes

    • thesingleswan
      March 20, 2017 / 8:24 pm

      that’s a lovely thing to say. thank you. I can assure you that Cygnet was an absolute horror today. He won’t be winning a Nobel Peace prize if he goes on hitting other children at soft play. Pen x

  8. March 20, 2017 / 2:36 pm

    I agree with this so much. And it isn’t up to other people to label a child. Let that child grow and define themselves!

    • thesingleswan
      March 20, 2017 / 8:23 pm

      I agree. thanks for your comment. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      March 20, 2017 / 8:22 pm

      This is true. It is possible to grow out of labels and to reject them. Pen x

  9. March 21, 2017 / 12:09 pm

    This is such a touching and emotive post and I agree totally. I think men in general are the biggest culprits in labelling things and people, as it seems to be how they process the world and make sense of things, but when this is labelling children it can be really harmful. After being at a parents evening recently for my daughter I thought back to my own parents evening (the ones I was sat with my parents at) and I can vividly remember them commenting on how quiet I was. I really don’t think this was worth their time in even saying, why not be more positive and constructive in your comments. Great post. #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      March 21, 2017 / 5:18 pm

      I absolutely agree. Quiet is a label that is often given to children. I hate it. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      March 23, 2017 / 3:26 pm

      Thanks for your comment. Pen x

  10. March 23, 2017 / 9:19 pm

    Your post as made me realise I might actually still be a child…mentally at least. Lol

    “Their personalities are fluid. They adapt to different situations”

    I agree we are too quick to label in today’s society. Indeed we have too many labels! I myself know if I am given a label, I will jolly well be it. If nothing but to disappoint the individual that gave it to me.

    Great post.

    #KCACOLS
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    • thesingleswan
      March 25, 2017 / 10:04 pm

      Thank you Cassie. I am glad you liked it. Pen x

  11. March 25, 2017 / 10:14 pm

    This is so true. Children can start off one way and then change…they can even change overnight! My happy go lucky confident little boy turned into an anxious, quivering shadow of his former self almost overnight. There was no rhyme or reason for it, nothing that we could pinpoint that caused the change…it just happened. As hard work as he can be, he is still my world and I love him no matter what. I might not choose the personality he ends up with but it’s him. I’m sure your little one will show many different traits over the years. I don’t think we find our true personalities until we have children of our own…I know I didn’t! #KCACOLS
    Nicola recently posted…Monday Motivation #16 – FamilyMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      March 26, 2017 / 9:15 pm

      Hi Nicola,

      I am really interested in your observation that we don’t find our true personalities until we have children of our own. I agree with you. Since I have had Cygnet, I have a much clearer and firmer idea of who I am and who I want to be. thanks for your comment. Pen x

  12. March 26, 2017 / 2:32 pm

    It’s also my pet-hate. If you repeatedly label someone in a particular way, I always think they start to behave in that way because you are telling them they are that way – for instance, if you repeatedly tell someone they are naughty and any positive comments are sparce, then they believe that they are in fact, naughty and behave that way.

    Great post #AnythingGoes

    • thesingleswan
      March 26, 2017 / 9:11 pm

      Hi Janet,

      thanks for your comment. Pen x

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