Labels Are for Jelly Jars
Teach Children – Don’t Label Them!
Author: Lynne Namka, Ed. D.
Labels! Hyperactive, bad, lazy, troublemaker, delinquent! Many children grow up in systems that label them in negative ways. Labeling a child is a way of subtly blaming the victim. Labeling is definitive; once we say it, then it holds meaning. The danger of labels is that children tend to believe what is said about them and live up to that negative expectation. Negative labels keep children caught in negative behavior. Labeling what we do not know how to deal with is victimization. Labeling can be a subtle means of trying to control the child. Yet, at one time, resorting to labels was what was accepted for discipline. Now we are seeing different ways of working with children–teaching children positive ways to act. As the poster says, “Label jelly jars, not kids!”
Play is an integral part of growing up and is based on specific skills. Play offers the child an opportunity to learn to deal with the adult world. Play helps stimulate the neurons at the synapse level to strengthen brain function. In play, children learn to express their emotions and put curbs on their impulsiveness. They learn to regulate their behavior and emotions as called for by the rules of the social setting. Play helps children develop good social skills. The research consistently points to developing solid friendships early in life as a way to increasing self esteem and good mental health.
Social skills are easy to teach. Children learn the positive values of treating each other with respect and taking responsibility for their own behavior. The steps to teaching social skills are similar to teaching academic subjects except that play and group activities and discussion plays a stronger role.
- Identify the skill that needs to be learned.
- Introduce the skill through discussion and modeling of the desired response.
- Give the rule and alternatives to the rule.
- Cue the child what to say and do regarding the new skill.
- Have the child cue himself through self talk.
- Provide practice of the skill through modeling, games, puppet and doll play, and role playing.
- Reinforce the new skill during practice.
- Teach the child to reinforce himself using self talk for using the skill. (Feel good about using the skill!)
- Provide opportunities for generalization and reinforcement of the skill in daily play.
A Twenty Minute Investment a Day
Children who talk about their feelings are less likely to turn to alcohol or drugs or join gangs. Some of the skills that can be taught and reinforced are eye contact, smiling, taking turns, listening to others, inhibiting behaviors that threaten others, following directions, sharing uncomfortable feelings, stopping sarcasm and egging others on. Some of the higher level skills are resolving conflict, listening with empathy when pain and hurt are described, giving support and encouragement and creative problem solving.
Social skills training gives children a bigger bag of tricks from which to choose. Children can learn techniques to deal with threat and their anger. The habitually angry child can change his perceptual distortions of seeing hostility and threat when there is none. He can learn to master the skills of stating feelings and staying centered during other people’s outbursts of anger and refrain from lashing out at others. Focusing on choices will give him the time to move into logical problem solving. Self-angering thoughts can be challenged and interrupted to inhibit impulsive behavior.
Social skill training complements other therapeutic modes of intervention such as family therapy, play and art therapy and psychodynamic methods of therapy. Social competence requires that we learn to feel our emotions, talk about them and make responsible behavior choices that are respectful of others and ourselves. When children learn to feel and talk their feelings, then they can learn to trust others.
Social skills are fun to teach because we feel good about ourselves when sharing them with children. We learn what we teach. What we teach we learn! Sometimes we even teach to learn!