Thursday, February 19, 2009

Risks when labeling children, do they become the label or do we treat them as such?

There are several risks when you label children. One is that they identify themselves with the label and then feel that they have no options but to be that label. That is how everyone sees them or that is the behavior expect of them so that must be who they are.

We all label our kids without thinking about it and may be trapping them in a mode of behavior without realizing it. This is so and so, she is really cute or smart, this is so and so he is a great dancer, this is so and so and he is the difficult one, the one with problems, anti social, etc.

The other problem is that people start treating the children based on their label. The cute one gets away with things, the bad one get in trouble all the time because everyone knows he is the bad apple. Or have higher expectations for the smart one, put more demands on that child then others. Or shy one is seen as being anti social, not shy and never gets past it and becomes anti social as a result. Once a child has been labeled it is almost impossible to remove the label. Once a child has been labeled difficult or slow or a problem that is how people see them even when it is not the case.
My 5 year old has been labeled as being difficult, a problem at school and has been removed from the school around 8 times and suspended 6 times. The problem I am having is that he has finally been identified as special needs and we are waiting for him to be tested to identify his needs, but the school has already put the labels difficult and bad on him and treat him as such, not as a child with special needs. We know that they are not working with him, when he gets upset they just remove him from the room and have us pick him up, often making the problem worse.
He is usually trying to tell people something and gets upset because people are not paying attention or listening to him. Removing him from the situation does not teach him how to act in that situation so he ends up repeating the same “errors”, nor does it give him a different set of behaviors that is seen as acceptable. How do they expect him to learn how to behave when all they do is yank him out and remove him? What lesson is learned? That when I scream and kick out I get to go home and don’t have to go to school the next day ether.

He keeps missing out on school activities and he is not learning the academics he needs to be in grade 1. He is losing out because it is easier for the school to remove him then it is to work with him. There is a 6 month or longer wait on the testing that will identify what his special needs are, so we know he is special needs but not exactly what the needs are so it is not on his school file. Once it has been identified and put on his file it is going to be at least 2 years before he will have an EA (an individual to help him though the school day) if he even gets one, and there is a 18 to 24 month wait on getting a speech therapist through the school system. This means that he will live with the label of being difficult until at least grade 3. That’s a long time, and I am sure he will have learned that is how they see him no matter what he does and will take on that label as his own by then.

I have seen this happen to other children, where they are labeled by one teacher and then treated by other teachers a certain way because what their file said about them. I know of one Mother who actually removed her son from school, sent him to his Grandmothers to go to school in her area. His file that said he was inattentive, lazy, below average with anger issues did not follow him. All the reports from the second school said he was above average, worked well with others and strived to learn and there never any mention of anger issues.

So the next year she brought him back, put him into the same school system he had been in before, and what did his old teacher do, made a point of letting the new teacher know what a problem he was. So again he was labeled as “bad” without doing a thing, and a year of positive feedback was disregarded on one teacher's say so. So even though the label was proven wrong it was how he was treated. So think before you label a child or believe a label someone has given a child. Just because someone says it is so does not make it so, that is just their opinion.