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When Someone Negatively Labels Your Child

Posted in Parenting
on August 30, 2016

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Kids are unique. I believe each kid is born with their own personality and it is up to us as parents to nurture that and help them be the best possible version of themselves. But, there’s always a learning curve.

Some kids act out at school and the teachers take notice. I know, because I have worked in elementary and preschools for the past 6 years. Sometimes when teachers notice a consistent negative behavior, they start expecting it from the kid. And then someone negatively labels your child a “hitter” or “biter”.

But, it’s not fair to label a kid based on their behavior. They simply need help finding another outlet or identifying a trigger. That’s where the teachers and parents need to work together.

Lately at school my toddler has become more “handsy” with some of the kids. She will sometimes hit them. But after observing it’s not out of malice and it’s not hard. She looks over at me while she’s doing it or she does it to tell a kid they are in her space. So, I have been working with her on keeping her hands to herself and using her words. I have seen great progress with her and it’s only been a week, so I’m optimistic that she is learning how else to express herself.

However, there’s a new teacher at her school (which is where I work) and she never saw my toddler before she started this behavior. She didn’t know her as the shy girl attached to her mommy’s leg. All she’s seen her do is occasionally hit a kid (again, not hard). But I’ve noticed this teacher start to look at my toddler differently. She will pay close attention to her and points it out to me every time she acts out. I’m starting to believe she’s labeled her a “hitter”.

One particular incident happened recently that really made me believe that she has labeled her. A little boy came running over to this new teacher saying, “She was gonna hit me” and he pointed to my toddler who was sitting on the floor starting to cry. (She is definitely emotional and has a new “fake” cry but as her mom I could tell this was different)

As I observed this scene from across the room I noticed that the new teacher went over to my toddler and told her not to hit. My daughter, still crying, walked away and came over to me. The boy was completely fine and was off playing again. When I asked my daughter what happened she said through sniffly tears, “He hurt me.” Well, if that doesn’t tug at your heart strings I don’t know what would. So, I gave her a hug and asked who, and she pointed to the boy.

The new teacher walked by and I asked her what happened and she said my toddler hit the boy. When I told her that my toddler said that he hurt her, the new teacher literally replied, “No, I don’t think so.” (It could’ve been my mama bear coming out but I detected a little attitude). In my mind I thought, My daughter might hit occasionally, but she’s doesn’t lie. But, I calmly said, “Well can you ask him?” So she went to the boy and sure enough, he said he did hit her!

I gave my daughter a big hug. I let her know that everything was ok, and that it was no fun to be hit. Once I acknowledged her she seemed to feel better and then went off to play. The new teacher briefly talked to the boy.

I felt so icky that she just assumed my toddler was the bad guy and didn’t listen to her. It made me truly realize that she did see my toddler a certain way. So, I’ve come up with a few ideas on how to handle it when someone negatively labels your child.

1. Use Your Words
It’s always best to be upfront with the teacher or adult. Talk to them about how you are feeling. It’s important to use “I” statements like, “I feel like my toddler is being seen a certain way….” Make sure to be respectful and don’t attack the person (put those mama bear claws away for now) and be diplomatic.

2. Listen
Of course the other side to talking is listening. Let them have a turn to tell you what behaviors they have been noticing. Not every mom is there with their kid at school, so let the teacher or adult explain their side of the story.

3. Come up with a plan
Set some time aside to talk to the teacher or adult about things they can do at school or you can do at home. Make sure to write it down and put it in a formal action plan. This was you can both make sure you are on the same page and have something to refer to.

If your child has been labeled a “hitter”, explain to the teacher where you think this behavior is coming from and how they can prevent it. The teacher also might have some insight or suggestions too. Make sure you listen to each other and come up with a plan that you both are on board with.

4. Follow Up
It may take a few days or a few weeks, but each day follow up with the teacher or adult on how your child did that day. If they had a good day, make it a big deal and tell them you are proud of them.

5. Watch a negative turn into a positive
Here’s the great part, if you all work together to help with a negative behavior, it’ll start to be less about the negative behavior and more about celebrating the positive behaviors. Make sure the teachers also acknowledge all of the wonderful and kind things your child does. This will help them see your child in a new, brighter way. They will begin to celebrate successes rather then punish for negative behaviors.

You see your child for all of the amazing things they do, and this action plan will help their teachers and adults see that too. It’s all about perception and keeping it positive. Make sure they know that. Make sure they do that.

6. Focus on the positive
Kids pick up on things, and if their teacher is constantly on them for their negative behavior, they start seeing themselves negatively. Sit down with your kid at home and make a list of all the wonderful traits they possess. Also, you can talk to them about something kind they did at school. Have them draw a picture of it and put it on the fridge, then celebrate that kindness. Show them that they are and can be a kind and caring person.

Side note: There are some teachers and adults who are set in their ways. Unfortunately once they label a child it is hard for them to see them any other way. If this is the case, and they are not willing to work with you or your child, you might need to consider if that is the right place for your child to be. I understand that sometimes you don’t have other options, in which case be persistent and you can always talk to someone above them in the chain of command.

When a teacher or adult negatively labels your child, it’s important to act quickly. Your child is perceptive and will notice the teacher treating them differently. Then, they could start seeing themselves in that way, too. We owe it to our kids to stick up for them, and to show the world, and themselves, all of the wonderful and amazing things about them.

Has someone ever negatively labeled your child? How did you handle the situation? What are some wonderful things about your kids you can focus on?