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Psychotherapist cautions against ‘labeling’ children

Scotland’s longest-running personality study recently found that who we are changes over our lifetimes.

Perhaps child psychotherapist Ruth Glover read the study, published in Psychology and Ageing. She took it a step further, arguing that even if children begin life naughty or nice, as the case may be, we shouldn’t tell them that.

Speaking to the BBC, Glover explained that labeling kids can negatively shape their self-esteem. For instance, if a child is repeatedly told they have great physical prowess, but then they come last at the Little Athletics carnival, their pride will likely be significantly dented.

She also noted labels can be restrictive. If a child is branded ‘bookish’, for instance, they may not explore their more creative side as much.

Educators, too, should be wary of labeling kids, Glover advised. Although it can be a helpful way of managing a varied group, these labels may not always be accurate, and can lead to typecasting or even false diagnoses.

Mary is a preschool teacher in Sydney’s east. She is all too aware of this.

“We have a few kids that stand out as having additional needs, like those who present with ADHD-like symptoms of being impulsive, the inattentive group time disturbers, the dreamers, the fidgeters,” Mary said. “And then those that are obviously defiant, perhaps presenting with ODD [oppositional defiance disorder],” she said.

“So yes, we do tend to label kids and classify them too.”

Unlike Glover, however, Stern said labels can be a good thing: they can help educators understand children better. Glover may call this ‘pigeonholing’, but for time-poor early learning professionals, cutting to the (correct label) chase may be the easiest, if not the only option.

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