Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dealing with labels on children

Someone wrote to me yesterday, a mom who was feeling sad because she'd had her son go through  psych-ed testing and she'd learned some difficult things. In a sense she was grieving that he'd be labeled, and wondering what that would mean.

Here is what I've learned about labels:

1. Labels are heavy when they stick to your heart.  The hardest part of labels is that we mistakenly see them as an indicator of brokenness in our children. In reality what they do is put a name on an obstacle -- and we can either surmount or adapt to most obstacles.

2. Labels grow lighter when you look at them as tools. If giving my kid a diagnosis will get him the services or accommodations or medication he needs, label away! A label gives me keywords to search on, a starting point for finding out ways to help my child, and a means to build a support network for myself. A label that gets my child an IEP or 504 gives me negotiating power with schools.

3. Labels don't change who your child is or doom your child's future. What you do with the information a label gives you, and how you adapt to it makes the biggest difference of all. And unless it really is your fault that your child faces challenges, you don't need to feel ashamed or guilty.

4. Labels sometimes change. Kids grow, frontal lobes develop, and we get better at figuring out ways to help our children learn and adapt and behave.The label you have today may not apply five years from now. Keep focused on the next best step you can take, and keep moving.


  1. That Mom was surely blessed by your wisdom.

  2. Thank you for this wise counsel! Our eight-year-old granddaughter was a micro-preemie, and she faces lots of physical challenges. Labels have a hard time sticking to her, though, because her parents share your attitude.

  3. amen! the only labels i like are the ones on soup cans. ;)

    (ps this is ruth bergen)

  4. I totally agree with everything you said. I usually say diagnosis since I worked in the medical field for so long. You are right about using the label to help your child get the help they need.