How the Label “Lazy” Reinforces Poor Behaviors
We live in a judgmental society. It doesn’t take much scrolling through social media to find a disagreement quickly turn to name-calling. The need to label and categorize others runs deep. Somehow, labeling that which we don’t understand brings a sense of satisfaction and consolation.
One of the ways in which we label is through name-calling. At one time or another in our life, we’ve all called someone a name.
There’s an old children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” This sounds good in theory; however, name-calling does hurt. In fact, some labels cause a powerful sting of emotional damage. Lazy is one of the more serious, psychologically loaded labels.
All judgments stem from deeply held values. In the United States, society’s view of success is greatly impacted by the notion that a strong work ethic is how people prove themselves.
“At least in much of the U.S. culture, work and worth are very closely associated.”~Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D, Psychology Today
In light of this, it is natural for parents to want their children seen as industrious, independent, and productive citizens. Unfortunately, sometimes this desire is inappropriately communicated to children, causing more harm than good.
I cringe every time I hear a parent call a child lazy. I’ll never forget one mother who described her daughter as not only lazy but worthless. My heart ached when I saw this precious child sink into her chair as if she wanted to disappear out of shame.
There are unintended consequences to calling children lazy. Not only does it not solve the problem, it can reinforce the very behaviors a parent is trying to diminish.
As adults of profound influence, we must understand the impact of applying a label to a child; especially one as damaging as ‘lazy.’
Below are four reasons parents should never call a child lazy.
1. Children do not question their parents’ opinion. In a child’s mind, if my mom or dad believe I’m lazy, then it must be true. Lazy implies a permanent character flaw that cannot be fixed.
2. Children will live up to both positive and negative expectations.
“Students will rise to the level of expectation.”~Jaime Escalante
When “parents display expectations with their language, tone, and actions. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.”~Senor Molina
3. Children don’t actively set out to disappoint people. Children are little people with very little experience in the world. They’re experimenting with who they will become in the world.
Children will make mistakes, after all, they’re human. However, they’re not usually able to understand or articulate why they behave the way in which they do.
4. Children equate their parents’ disappointment with their value. Just like adults, children desire unconditional love. Even with the slightest hint of conditions, children will conclude they are not lovable.
“We ought to love children, as my friend Deborah says, ‘for no good reason.’ Furthermore, what counts is not that we believe we love them unconditionally, but that they feel loved in that way.” ~Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason
Nonetheless, there are times when children struggle. After all, part of maturing is the need to practice discipline in areas like school and chores.
The most important thing a parent can do when a child is not meeting his or her potential is to determine the real problem. There are many reasons children stop trying.
He or she may be…
* learning disabled.
* a perfectionist.
* afraid of failure.
While there are numerous reasons a child quits, one thing is for sure. Calling a child lazy will not solve the problem.
If you’re interested in reading more on the topic of motivation, I recommend this article entitled “How to Motivate the Unmotivated Child.”
Relationship is everything in parenting. If a child believes love is conditional, he or she will behave accordingly.
Regardless of intent, our words and actions carry consequences. A hundred “I love yous” can be erased with one dangerous word.