Lables are for Cans, Not Children

I’d like to ask all of us to please consider the way we talk about children and the effect that can have- negatively and positively- on them, our foster and adoptive family community, and the community at large.

I am truly impressed by the number of great folks out there. People from all walks of life with huge diversity in terms of culture, finances, education, career, family configuration, etc.- each one dong the best they can to raise healthy and happy kids. Each one advocating, every day, for the supports needed to raise those healthy and happy kids and keep them safe.

We fight battles every day with the media, schools, doctors, therapists, insurance providers and child welfare agencies to provide for our children and to portray them in a positive light.  We love our sons and daughters, not in spite of their challenges, but because of their strength and beauty and brilliance, etc., at times I think we are our own- and their- worst enemies in the larger world.

Every time we refer to one of our children as “my ADHD son,”my borderline daughter”or “my RAD kid”; each time we say, “Joe is ODD” or “Wanda is LD” we take something away from their humanity. And in doing, we allow the rest of the world to do so, too.  In this way, our kids go from being lovable, amazing children to being a diagnosis, a problem, and an issue.

Let’s make it our goal this year, and in years to come, to allow no one, not even ourselves, to dehumanize our kids, when fighting for the services and supports they need, when trying to explain to a teacher why their goals may not be the same as ours, when sitting over a cup of coffee with a friend or neighbor, when writing or speaking about them in support groups or professional circles.  Instead let’s talk about “my beautiful artist Cassandra, who struggles with her difficulty in connecting to people” or “my soccer star Benji, who tries to find a way to use that same energy in school that gets him cheers on the field” or even “my eldest is living away right now, trying to figure our what adulthood is all about.”

The language we use allows others to use it for or against our children. I know having learned from mistakes I made in the past.  Being the mom who was willing to believe her kids could learn something wrong and know that her kids did need a bit extra, I made it easy at times for others to blame my children, to lower expectations, to ignore.

Several years ago, I consciously decided to NEVER say anything negative about my children in public.  At school conferences, when the teachers and administrators would worry about lack of effort or impulsivity, I stopped colluding with them about the challenges of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  Instead I thanked them for acknowledging how capable my child is and went on to say how proud I am that this child’s obvious joy at being in school among peers is such a delight.  I thanked them for making an environment where he could be happy and enthusiastic and went on to suggest that a more kinetic way of teaching seemed in order. The difference it has made in his schooling, his social life, in me and in HIM, is incredible.

I try to take this approach in all my conversations these days (though I confess I also try to stay away from political debate, the approach and such debate are rarely compatible). When talking to parents about their kids, when talking to kids about their parents, and especially when talking to kids about themselves and their worlds, I use positive language and avoid labels or generalizations.  The difference it has made for me and for those around me is palpable. Most especially, the youth I know seem stronger, more self assured, more capable- and the adults around them know it.

Source: Kim Stevens, Med, LSW, Founder and CEO of Raising Children’s Voices, Inc., Reprinted with permission of the author.

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