“Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think.” -Benjamin Disraeli
As a parent, and a teacher, I want to help children develop an awareness about their character, the power of their mind, about the path that lies ahead of them as they grow. Ideas about life, our role in it, how we go about creating the life we dream of…those are all huge understandings that never end, life lessons that change and grow as we change and grow.
We have such an important job as parents, care givers, educators and that can make for a lot of pressure. Our role is important, it assists in building a strong foundation, but we are a part of children’s journey not the entirety. This quote comes to mind: “Humans are not born once and for all on the day their mother’s give birth to them…life obliges over and over again to give birth to themselves.” -Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
We assist in lighting the spark, planting the seed, keeping the window of possibility open in our children’s lives by providing opportunities for moments of self awareness that they can build upon. If we view our role as allowing for stepping stones, jumping off points for self awareness and understanding of others it allows us to feel a bit less pressure. Powerful lessons for sure, but not so pressure filled, because we are just a part of their process, not the whole! They begin to navigate with courage, self belief and a sense of belonging as we assist and guide.
One stepping stone to self awareness that we can help our children begin to connect with and understand is labels. Labels are abundant in our society. The definition of label, as it relates to people, is a classifying phrase or name applied to a person, especially one that is inaccurate or restrictive. The words restrictive and inaccurate are in the definition of label, and yet we (humans) take them on and let them shape our lives in so many ways.
We can help our children be aware of labels and the role they might play in their lives. Labels are everywhere, especially in the online world. Labels can lead to a restricted, fixed mindset. “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success-without effort.” (Dweck, 2015)
We can provide children with an opportunity to think about labels, how labels can make them feel stuck, and build an awareness about how they respond to labels.
We can use a visual model. A visual analogy using two cans of food.
Show them a can of food with a label on it, suh as a can of green beans. Ask:
- What’s in this can?
- Can you name five things that could be in this can?
- What could we make with this can of green beans?
Help them notice:
- We are having a hard time coming up with more than one answer of what could be in this can, because the label is telling us what it is.
- We can think of some different dishes we could make (soup, casserole, salad), but it’s limited.
Show your child a can of food with the label removed.
- Could you name 5 things that could be in this can?
- Could it be something that goes in a dessert?
- Could it be an ingredient used to make tacos?
- Could it be something sour?
Help them notice:
- The answers of what it could be seem limitless.
- So many possibilites.
- The potential for what it could be made into are many.
- Try and use these words as you are discussing what it could be: limitless, possibilities, and potential. Those are strong capable words, just like we are strong, capable, adaptable human beings.
- Talk about the difference between the labeled can and the unlabeled can.
Build the connection between this canned food analogy to us as humans. There is one label these two have in common, which is canned food. Let’s compare this to humans.
- What is our one label? Human.
- Are there other labels humans have or give to themselves or take on? Age..race…grade…job…personality…strengths…talents…weaknesses.
- Can you think of some labels that might be associated with you? Share some of your own labels you have or had.
- Do they hold you back in some way?
- Do we have to let them hold us back?
- Can I change this label? How?
- Do I label others? (connection, understanding, empathy, compassion)
In society, in families we will always have labels, because they help us organize, but we are capable and with awareness we can go beyond labels and not let them define us or others. Think about the labeled green beans…can they become a dessert? It is not likely that green beans will become a dessert, but if someone is thinking outside of the box, with a different perspective…it is possible. Cauliflower has become a pizza crust. That’s beyond what I ever imagined. We can go beyond labels.
This discussion can be a simple to the point awareness of labels, just an aha moment, or it can expand into stereotypes, subjectivity, perspective, image, excuses…from canned food to whoa some deep connections. It all depends on the age, interest and understanding of the child. It can definitely be a lesson that can be returned to, referenced as needed and built upon.
- Are you being held back by a label right now?
- How is it limiting you?
- What would you choose to do if that wasn’t there?
Labels have a lot of power to control us, but as humans we have the capability and control in how we respond to labels. If we are aware of labels, and that they can limit us, that is a powerful self awareness to have, and gives us control of our path. Next if we understand that we are always changing as humans and we can go beyond labels we will build empathy for ourselves and others. This opens up possibilities and gives us the willingness and motivation to move forward. Instead of labels moving us towards a fixed mindset, and feeling stuck we are helping our children build a powerful self awareness and understanding that with opportunity, support and effort we can change, grow and move forward. We are helping them foster a growth mindset. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work-brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” (Dweck, 2015)
We can all assist our children with opening doors to capability, growth and possibility so they can navigate their own courageous path with hope. This analogy is one way to start a discussion, that might begin a thought process, build an understanding, open up new paths. That is a fantastic stepping stone we can provide.