“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.
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.