This is a theme that I now recognize well, and for which I don’t have to be convinced anymore. In French, you can call it “the weight of the tag”.
The more we “tag” a person, the more this person will fit the role we give him, negative or positive.
Negative, of course we don’t want that, but in fact, positive either: because it imposes a stressful standard (We can’t be super heroes, let’s accept our imperfection!).
We already talked about this in Liberated Parents, liberated children, in Chapter 7: the roles we cast them in.
Where do the roles come from?
Sometimes they come from the parents, because it’s natural, because we believe that we know so well our children, because one might be tempted to boost the ego of our child… but… at the expense of the other… Let”s avoid it!
Oh… And sometimes the role given by the parents simply comes from the birth order: the oldest must be more responsible, the smaller is more fragile, I consider that the big brother bothers his little sister because my older brother was bothering me…
Sometimes they come from the children themselves, or in any case, they are reinforced by the children, who see their interest.
Sometimes, they are pushed on by a sibling, who keeps on saying that the other child is… (Complete by whatever you want! Weak, wimpy, stupid…)
In all of the above, the child ends up in a situation in which he struggles to see himself other different from the image we give him.
Once again, we go back to an already discussed theme.
But here, the emphasis is on the impact on the siblings: how can we recognize the traits of character without doing so at the expense of others?
An example of the book deals with a girl who is learning the piano. She struggles, then realizes that her little sister can play the piece she has been working on, just from hearing her practice… Because of that, she feels it better to just stop taking classes, because she obviously doesn’t have talent for it.
I know exactly what I would have said in that case: “Yes, your sister is probably better for the piano, each one has his strengths and weaknesses, you’re better at (…). “But it doesn’t matter, don’t worry, just play at your level.”
However, if you look closely, I create with this answer a competition between children: “She is better at…” “You are better at…”
I prefer the answer suggested in the book: “I can imagine how it must be disheartening to hear your sister play your piece, but the way your sister plays has nothing to do with you. No matter how fast one can learn to play. What is important is how YOU interpret the piece, to know if you like playing it, if you enjoy that. It would be a shame to deprive you of that pleasure!”
With that answer, we do not deny the talent of the sister, but we’re disconnecting things, we are not in a comparative mode, we are focus on the one child.
Will I be able to learn to react like that?
Sometimes, the child can only maintain his role to the detriment of his sibling. And that explains that this theme is also very well fitted in this book.
Besides, the role of each one has an influence on the other.
We obviously find roles that respond to each others, like bully/victim, but we can also see simpler patterns that are still increased by comparison, like “I’m the one who does not forget my things” (personal example that had reasoned in me when reading Chapter 3 on comparison)
Then, how can we free the child to change?
Answer: Don’t lock him in his role, but treat it as if h was already out of it!
Ex of the distracted, to whom we entrust the task to remember to take everything that is necessary.
Ex of the aggressor, to whom we say clearly we know he knows how to obtain things without hitting.
You can even tell him, in the heart of the action:
“I know you have the ability to be nice, use it!”
And the way we see him needs to change not only for him but also for his environment: “You are angry about your brother ripping the toy off from you? I understand this! Yet, he knows very well how to be nice and ask for the toy when he wants to.”
I’m guessing that in every family, it’s the same: every child has his role…
At home, we find Alice (8) as the victim against Oscar (13), perpetrator. Reading this chapter, I realize that I don’t always answer very well…
But we also and especially get this labelling problem for Leon (4).
“Leon is a difficult child.” (Idea that spread in our broad family, not unfounded…) But really! The more we repeat it, the more true it will be!
However Leon is also a sensitive child, a smart kid, a child who likes challenges, a child who seeks to go further, a curious child, a creative child…
How to develop these images?
How to make sure we stop sending him the image of the boy who gets angry “for nothing”?
Not obvious… Especially as the more it goes, the less we have the energy it takes to help him show his other face…
(Later note: we at least managed to talk to him about his pretty smile…)
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