I believe labels can be powerful in both harmful and empowering ways. This is especially true for young children who are developing an inner dialogue with themselves, one they'll live with for the rest of their lives. As a mother of daughters, I choose my words with great care. I want to use words that will encourage an appreciation for their bodies, a deep sense of self-worth and an overwhelming sense of being wholly loved. Everyone uses labels on a daily basis which makes them a perfect place to start examining the language we use.
My kids hear everything. Even when they ask me to repeat myself a dozen times, I know it's not unlikely they heard me the first time. Which is why it's not just what I say in conversation with them that matters, but also what I say about them in conversations with others and what I allow others to say about my kids.
A perfect example is when a stranger says hi to my daughters while we're out running errands. It's not uncommon for one or even both of them to smile, reach for my hand or move closer to me and leave the stranger's greeting unanswered. In moments like these, many adults will chime in, "Oh, she's being shy." Shy, shy, shy. I loathe the word; it makes me want to set my hair on fire. Of the vast spectrum of emotions my child might be experiencing, did it ever cross your mind that perhaps they're simply being cautious with a person they don't know? Perhaps they want to warm up to you at their pace and not yours? Perhaps it has nothing to do with you and they're just hungry and tired and don't have it in them to engage in small talk?
Shy, in and of itself, is not a negative label but when people use it to describe my children, they're using it in a negative fashion. They're looking for an easy way to label behavior that makes them, not my children, uncomfortable. They throw the word around to disregard my children's emotions. Hey kid, you're just shy. This awkward silence I've created by over-enthusiastically trying to chat you up is now your problem not mine. Work on that shy thing. Bottom line: Shy is a label I do not tolerate around my children. I let people know my daughters are careful and like to warm up to people at a pace all their own.
It's easy for me to identify the irksome language other people use to label my children. I can't say the same for my own labeling faux pas.
Every night I kiss my girls and whisper sweet nothings in their ear. I always end with "I love you, princess." I've been saying it, with some regularity, since they were born. The other night I caught myself saying "princess" and really had to stop myself. We are not anti-princess in our home. We are mindfully selective of these royal "role models" and how they influence our daughters. We love Merida. Not so keen on Adora. We're team Tiana, all the way. Cinderella? Meh. Am I depriving them of some life changing experience by not letting them glorify the Disney princess squad in our house? I don't think so.
I've explained to my daughters how what and who we surround ourselves with plays a big part in influencing us. So I tell them if they like princesses, choose the ones with admirable qualities. Choose the ones that empower them as little girls. None of this putting your life on hold until prince charming comes around. Fooey. I felt a bit like a fraud for tossing out "princess" with such little thought.
"Shy" is specifically negative while "princess" is positively vague. Not exactly the way to celebrate precisely how great my daughters are. I want there to be no doubt in their minds that they are always enough just as they are. So I bid adieu to "princess" (as well as "shy") and welcome words that rejoice in the gifts they were born with, the gifts they're still figuring out that I'm so lucky to witness. I believe labels have the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I'd rather leave my daughters with words that will lift them up rather than words that just kind of leave them hanging.
Here are 10 positive labels, 10 kickass alternatives to calling your daughter a princess and kicking "shy" to the curb.
A Mighty Girl, a site dedicated to curating "the world's largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls," recently polled their community of parents to see what labels they use to make their daughters feel like Wonder Women. While some shared their favorite nicknames (bug, bear, monkey -- long live animal-related monikers), others shared labels they'd be happy to see manifested in their little girls (warrior, brilliant, leader).
What labels or empowering nicknames do you give your daughter? Leave them in the comments here or tweet them to @HuffPostParents and we'll create a slideshow of excellent ideas here.
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