Have You ‘Boxed’ In Your Kids?

I was recently at a parenting conference and one of the speakers handed out a survey to each of the parent participants. Here were some of the questions:

How would you describe your child?

__Silly               __Serious     __Mature    __Rebellious

What kind of student is your child in school?

__Slacker    __Over-Achiever   __Middle of the road    __Gifted

When your child plays, what role do they usually play?

__Leader   __Follower   __Creator   __Loner

The purpose of this exercise was to get parents to think of their children and their traits—both positive and negative. Since I do not have children, I patiently watched the moms and dad’s around me struggle with their answers. Some mothers ticked off the boxes so quickly, I doubted they really read them—let alone thought about them. Others, sat, chewing on the end of their pen, crinkling the paper, unable to mark any responses. Other couples argued over what their son ‘actually is’ and what they ‘hope for him.’

The woman next to me turned to me, “Do you think my daughter is an over-achiever or gifted?” I looked at this worried woman. I think she had asked me for a pen when we first sat down, but other than that she was a totally stranger to me, and her child was even more distant. I responded cautiously, “Do I know your daughter?” She shook her head, “No, but I have no idea what I should put, so I figure you might just be my coin toss. If I pick one I do not want to be disappointed if down the line she isn’t really gifted or something crazy like that.”

I realized that this exercise was a larger trend of having parents put their kids in ‘boxes.’ Everywhere we see schools, experts, and speakers ask their participants to categorize their kids. I’m even guilty of this. In fact my most popular posts and often people’s favorite part of my speeches is when I talk about the 5 Types of Moms or Teens. So, why do we even want to put our kid’s into categories? I believe this is tempting because it takes down or own anxiety. Putting kids into categories makes us feel like we know them and that we can figure out how to fix them if they have a place.

Yet, I think there are some consequences to putting kids in both good, i.e. ‘gifted, and bad, i.e. ‘slacker’ boxes.

1) It makes it harder for us to see them when they change

Kids change. When we place them in a category in our head, it makes it hard to see real changes that are happening.

2) It builds expectations.

When we categorize our kids into types, it sets up expectations. This is not always good because often times expectations blind you to what you really need to see and put pressure on both you and your child to live-up to them.

3) It leads to disappointment.

Many of my clients who are struggling in school were once classified as ‘gifted.’ This categorization was more harmful to them than positive because they built up expectations that not only did they have to be gifted, but that school would be easy. When the experienced their first difficult class, they were much harder on themselves and could not see that it was normal to struggle in some classes.

4) Kids may actually live up to the categories you give them.

This can be a good thing. If you call your child intelligent, they might strive to live-up to that, but what I hear more often are other negative categories—lazy, slacker, slow-adopter. Whether a kid is ‘lazy’ or not, if they are constantly called it by the adults in their lives, they have very little motivation to change.

I am going to work on lessening my reference to categories of kids and hope that you will think about how you have ‘boxed’ your kids. This does not have to be on a form or questionnaire, but merely generalizations you have made in your own head. Do you think you project this fairly? Does your kid live up to this expectation?

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