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Posted: Aug 5, 2009 11:42

THE TENDER TRAP OF LABELING OUR KIDS

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By Rose Mulligan

"This is my 'A' student," says a mom of one of her sons. "And this,"about her other son, "is my difficult one," she says with a big smile and a tousle of his hair.

In a culture gripped by achievement and image, which increasingly leans toward the labeling and pathologizing of our children, it is understandable that parents my fall into a similar pattern.

"Perhaps we are labeling our kids, instead of understanding them," suggests clinical psychologist Robert Schwebel, PhD. "Professionals have been too quick to label, perhaps to explain away problems in the classroom. Parents have picked up on this trend and sometimes get into the labeling mode."

Labeling children may begin in early childhood; and within the public school and medical communities, diagnoses have become widespread to the point of spawning hundreds of support sites online for parents of children who may have ADD, ADHD, ODD, ASP... The list goes on and grows every day. More recently, attributes like weight and even shyness have been brought into the potential 'disorder' arena.

"Labels and categories register deeply in our children, and they can be difficult to overcome," says Malcolm Gauld, President of Hyde Schools. "And it doesn't end in early childhood. Later, children will likely face additional labeling due to the peer pressure of cliques and perhaps the name-calling of bullies. And then there is the educational system itself."

Hyde Schools, which consist of prep schools in Maine and Connecticut and public schools in Washington DC and the Bronx, New York, have led the way in character education for over 40 years. Gauld, along with wife, Laura, is an award-winning co-author of the parenting book The Biggest Job We'll Ever Have and The Biggest Job parenting seminars.

"Standardized testing is another way in which we label our kids and separate them," Gauld continues. "Academic ability or talent is by far the biggest determinant in what our achievement culture calls success. Kids are defined by their grades and scores. We feel that's another label, and one that may not do the student a service. In the end, life is not about grades, or fitting in, but about WHO YOU ARE."

The Hyde Schools create a character culture on campus and at home with the students' families. Character education is built into everything they do in the classroom, and parents are expected to participate in their children's education.

"In a character culture, achievement is valued, but principles are valued more," says Gauld. "That is, what you stand for is more important than merely how you stack up against others. Here, that remains true, whether you have straight A's, or whether you have a challenge in school. Hyde education is built on principles, and the principles are the same for everyone."

The Gaulds teach those principles through what they call THE 10 PRIORITIES - a collection of guiding concepts that the Gaulds say are not always so easy for parents to embrace, but which produce positive lasting results. They explain them here:

PRIORITY #1--TRUTH OVER HARMONY
We all want honest families. We also want everyone to get along. Which do we want more? This priority calls upon parents to put the weight of the foot on the side of truth.

PRIORITY #2--PRINCIPLES OVER RULES
We tend to apply rules when things are starting to spin out of control. (For example, "There is no eating in THAT room, either!") Rules must be guided by deep principles.

PRIORITY #3--ATTITUDE OVER APTITUDE
Schools, families and society, in general, would be much healthier if we valued attitude over aptitude, effort over ability, and character over talent. Parents often send the message that successful outcomes are more important than honest efforts.

PRIORITY #4--SET HIGH EXPECTATIONS and LET GO OF THE OUTCOMES
Discipline alone will not properly raise our children. We need to aim high with our expectations and resist "lowering the bar" when we sense that our children are having difficulty achieving success. Letting go of the outcome allows our children to take responsibility for their actions.

PRIORITY #5--VALUE SUCCESS AND FAILURE
Today's parents have a hard time letting their children fail. Success is important, but failure can teach powerful lifelong lessons leading to profound personal growth.

PRIORITY #6--ALLOWING OBSTACLES TO BECOME OPPORTUNITIES
We can get caught up in trying to "fix" our children's problems (e.g., disagreements with their teachers, coaches, etc.) instead of seeing the potential for positive learning opportunities.

PRIORITY #7--TAKING HOLD AND LETTING GO
It is hard to watch our children struggle with life's challenges. When should we step in? When should we step away? This is one of the toughest parenting dilemmas.

PRIORITY #8--CREATE A CHARACTER CULTURE
This priority can help parents create an atmosphere of character in the home through the application of a three-point plan: a daily job, a weekly family meeting and a concept called "mandatory fun."

PRIORITY #9--HUMILITY TO ASK FOR AND RECEIVE HELP
While parents focus on helping their children, many avoid asking others for help. Consequently, they raise children who do not ask for help.

PRIORITY #10--INSPIRATION: JOB #1
Regardless of what they might say or do, children share a deep yearning to be inspired by their parents. Ironically, we will not inspire our children with our achievements. We best inspire them when we share our struggles, reach for our best and model daily character.

"The strongest relationships -- and the greatest chance of true and meaningful success -- rest on a foundation of principles," says Gauld.

For more information on Hyde Schools, contact Rose Mulligan at 207-837-9441, rmulligan@hyde.edu or visit http://hyde.edu and greatparenting101.com




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