Yesterday I was visiting my three goddaughters, two of whom I hadn’t seen in a while. As you can imagine, I love them to bits, and I find it very scary just how quickly they are growing up – the eldest will be ten next birthday, which is just ludicrous!
It was while talking to the eldest goddaughter that I started to think about writing this blog post. In fact, there were two incidents that made me think of it. You see said goddaughter has a tendency to be over dramatic, and somewhat diva-ish. She was acting this way at one point, and so I said something like “Now aren’t you the little diva.” to which she looked at me, frowning slightly, and retorted that, no, indeed, she was not a diva.
A short while later, one of the other adults in the house at that time – and, I cannot currently remember what caused him to say this. – got up from his seat and said to this very same goddaughter |you’re awkward.” I must stress at this point that he didn’t mean any harm to her by saying this, and it was definitely said in an affectionate way. But my goddaughter got upset by this comment nonetheless. Even more so than she had to my diva comment – which, let’s face it could be skewed as the more insulting, even though it wasn’t meant that way either.
At this point, my spidey-sense started tingling, and I realised something else was going on here. So, I got down on the floor and bum-shuffled over to the sofa in which she was sat, head buried in a pillow.
Now, I am not going to go into the conversation we had, because that would be unfair to her. But what is important to tell you is that other people had been doing very similar to her. I wouldn’t exactly say it was calling her names, more forcing negative identifiers upon her. What I mean by this is describing her as words that she didn’t feel were correct or appropriate. I realised that, though it wasn’t just adults doing this to her – we as adults do this a lot to our children, and it is something we need to stop.
We often forget that children are in the process of building and discovering their identities. So, when we throw in words like awkward, diva, or even something as simple as naughty, we are disrupting their process.
The stage in which we do this matters as well. Some psychologists theorise that a child’s identity is formed by the age of eight. I’m not one who subscribes to this idea. However, I would agree that by this stage they have developed a far clearer, but perhaps insecure idea of who they are. My nine-year-old goddaughter has an understanding of who she is, but she hasn’t yet got the confidence in herself to be assured of it. So, when I come and tell her she’s a diva, or this other guy tells her she is awkward. She knows she doesn’t identify as either being a diva or awkward, but she hasn’t yet developed the skills to stop it making a temporary imprint on her identity. So, for her, it stings.
I know that some of you will be saying. “Yeah, but Tom, you didn’t mean she was actually a diva, you were meaning she was acting LIKE a diva” and this, of course, it true. But, my goddaughter doesn’t know to pick up on the underlying implied syntax that adults would most likely pick up on. She just hears someone telling her she is something that she knows she is not.
For some children, this could even have further reaching consequences. It is entirely possible that a child with a less secure identity has that false identifier psychologically imprinted on them. When this occurs a child may start believing something about them. Let’s say for instance that my goddaughter actually believed she was awkward because of what was said to her, despite the fact the adult in question only meant she was acting awkward. She wouldn’t identify herself as awkward, but because she has been told she is, she believes there is something about herself she cannot see, doesn’t understand. This then chips away at her self-belief and self-confidence. She may even try to change that part of herself that doesn’t actually need changing. In the long run, she may even start believing other things people are saying to her – such as things said by bullies, giving them more power than they deserve.
As adults, we need to be consciously aware of the words we use towards our children. If I had said “you’re acting like a diva” or the other guy had said “you’re being awkward” we would then have made it clear that we were talking about her behaviour, something changeable, something that doesn’t define a human being. Then, she might not have reached a state of the upset as she did have.
Words have power, and as adults, we need to use them wisely.
Founder & CEO
Tom has going on 24 years worth of experience of working with children and young people. Having started when he himself was only 11.
He has worked in various roles, from babysitting, helping run his churches Kids Church, as well as various youth groups. Including various Friday night youth groups, a political consultation group for young people to have their say on matters concerning young people that were currently going through parliament, and the UK Youth Parliament.
For a number of years worked as a mentor for troubled young people who were at risk of falling out of the system. While volunteering he went through Level 3 training in mentorship.
While still at school Tom was trained up as a mediator and helped make a difference in the lives of his fellow students who had fallen into conflict. He was even featured in a local ITV program about the mediation training.
Tom has studied both Child Development and Child Psychology and hopes to take this line of study further in the future. In the meantime, he has gained a Level 2 Counselling certificate and will be working towards Level 3 very soon.
Tom’s real experience, however, is first hand. Having been bullied from the age of 11 through to 19. It was this the finally lead him to set up Strength Restored in order to make a difference in the lives.