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How NOT to speak to a child

One day last week, my ten-year-old came up to me after camp and told me that one of his counselors had made him cry.
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Baffled, I asked what this woman—a grown adult—could have possibly done to make him upset to the point of tears. He explained that she’d told him (and two other boys, mind you) that they were the rudest, meanest kids she’d ever met.

I kid you not.

I was horrified! For starters, my son may act out from time to time, but he is simply not a mean child. He has trouble listening sometimes, yes. He often acts impulsively, yes. He gets overly excited at times and speaks out without thinking, yes. But mean? Never. It’s just not how he thinks. But more importantly, an adult who works with kids should know that speaking to a child in that manner, no matter what the circumstance, is simply not okay.

Kids aren’t perfect, nor are adults. We are all flawed. But to name call is just unacceptable. Had she said, “you’re behaving rudely” or “you’re not paying attention to what’s going on” or “you’re being disrespectful,” that would have been another story. See, there she’d have been pointing out the behavior rather than assaulting who he is as a person.

Kids aren’t easy to deal with at times. As a mom of two boys, I know how infuriating the bambinos can be; my kids push my buttons constantly! But no matter how much I might yell sometimes, I am very careful not to label them… not to name call.

You’re rude. You’re mean. You’re disrespectful. You’re an idiot. You’re stupid.

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It’s labels like these that kids will start to believe about themselves—particularly when it comes from an adult.  I mean let’s face it, it’s much easier to believe the negatives about ourselves than the positives, right? So why plant this seed in a child’s head this early in life?

Now, did my son behave inappropriately? Yes, a bit. Nothing too earth shattering, just run of the mill, ten-year-old-boy stuff. But a better course may have been for the counselor to have given me a call to discuss the specific sins of my child. Or better yet, she could have simply doled out an appropriate punishment (maybe a time out?) at the time of the wrong-doing. But a direct character assassination on a child from an adult who should know better? Simply inexcusable.

So how did I handle it? Well, for starters I addressed it with the powers that be at the camp, for whatever that’s worth. As for my son, I simply told him that while his behavior during camp that day wasn’t stellar (which we addressed during a separate conversation), he’s not a mean or rude person.

Though I am extremely disappointed in how this grown adult spoke to my child, I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to discuss with my son the powerful effect name calling can have on a person.

My hope for my him from this experience is twofold: Frist, that he not believe the labels others try to put on him; and second that he think twice before calling others names.


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