“I would love to sign her up for Woods and Wetlands but she’s just like me, such an indoor girl!”
And just like that, a door of possibility is closed to a seven year old child.
Parents usually know their children better than anyone else does, especially when children are still little. But I worry about assigning labels at such a young age, especially when those labels are spoken out loud in front of that child. We must remember that they are still shaping and reshaping themselves constantly, even from day to day! Their bodies and brains will grow and change. Their likes and dislikes are not set in stone, not ever, and certainly not in those early years of life!
Kids evolve. They change. One of the most wondrous elements of childhood is the freedom to change your mind as often as you please about everything from what you want to be when you grow up to the foods you like, to the activities that are fun for you. Children are not stuck in a job they don’t like. They don’t go to work every day wishing they had become something else. The whole world and their future are still wide open. Don’t we want that? Do we really want to narrow it sooner than necessary? Influential adults and life experiences will inevitably refine their world as they grow and learn. I think it’s really important that we adults take deliberate care and speak and behave with intention when it comes to defining a child. We already know that they watch and listen as we model Life for them. Think about what happens when an adult whom they love and trust speaks words that limit who they are.
“She hates vegetables.”
“He’s not good at reading.”
“She’s afraid of spiders.”
“He doesn’t like to play outside.”
“She’s a girlie-girl.”
“He’s all boy.”
They hear these labels and definitions and then form themselves around what you have already decided. If you declare it, they will probably prove you right.
Instead, let’s leave their options wide open while we can. Let’s say, “I know you tried spaghetti last month and didn’t like it, but maybe you will this time.” and, “Yes, you did get cold last time you played in the woods, so maybe this time we can find different clothes for you to stay warm and have fun!” or, “I realize you fell and got hurt when you walked on a log last time, but I bet you will be stronger and have better balance if you try again!” and even, “I don’t really care for snakes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t like them or think they are interesting.”
We don’t need to place our own limitations and labels on our children. Each child is his or her own person with limitless possibilities ahead and all around. Let’s send them out into the world with the self confidence to keep trying, keep growing, and keep becoming who they want to be.