Labeling can limit students

At the grocery store, labels are a good thing. To know what’s inside that can or bag, you read the label. Humans, however, are not so easily reduced to a few descriptors. Yet, we still persist in labeling people. This does more harm than good, especially on children.


Common labels children receive

Growing up, did people place labels on you? Were you the “smart one”? Or perhaps the pretty one or athletic or funny?

Labels on children are not helpful and can affect learning.

If a person had heard their entire life that they are one thing, they define themselves that way. Sandra was told she was “artsy”. So, she assumed that math and science would be hard for her. When faced with a challenge in such subjects, she gave up. She thought she would not be able to grasp the material because she was right-brained.

Often parents do not realize that labeling is hurtful, or that they are even doing it. But the child believes what they are told and can twist it to think those labels are all they ever will be. It may seem like praise when someone tells you “you’re the smart one”. However, such a label can induce pressure to succeed and always having to “get it right.”

Labels limit a person’s ability to accurately see themselves as multi-faceted and capable in many areas.

These stories play out in hundreds of ways across all kinds of families. Sometimes the labels are harsher and said with a negative tone. “You are so strong-willed!” The child assumes that this trait is a “bad” thing. The truth is that the world needs strong-willed people.

The long-term effects

Just like labels on cans, labels on people stick for a long time. A child forms limiting beliefs that affect them throughout their school years (and beyond). They think they are only x, y, or z and that those traits are their entire package and it won’t ever change.

We, humans, are all complex and diverse. Sam can excel at soccer and biology and drama. Chris can be a whiz with numbers, write poetry, and build birdhouses. And on and on and on. Abilities can be acquired and most children have the ability to learn.

Tutors often hear a student proclaim, “I can’t do math. I’m good at English.” Once a student works with the tutor and realizes they can indeed get the hang of equations, their whole world opens up. What narrow notions they once thought about themselves can now be looked at objectively and optimistically.

Instead, encourage children of all ages to try new things, to explore and test their wings. They may discover interests and talents they never thought possible. Lose the labels and empower your student to create endless opportunities.

About the Author

Scott Lee

Scott Lee

Scott Lee is the CEO and founder of Gooroo, a tutoring membership that matches students to tutors perfect for them based on their unique learning needs. Gooroo offers math, English, ESL, Spanish tutoring, and more.