Type Casting Children

I remember the moment my son Shaurya was born. He was bawling and it was the cry of a healthy baby announcing his arrival! The nurse commented ‘your son is going to get his way just howling’. When I came home and had more time to reflect on the whole thing, I put her comment aside as foolish.

And yet, in the coming months, when he kept on crying for everything, refusing to sleep no matter how much I rocked him, refusing to eat, refusing to go to school, refusing to leave me even for a few seconds, I couldn’t help thinking he is a cry baby.

Such self – fulfilling prophesies are dangerous. If we label a child as uncooperative, he would start showing how uncooperative he is. If you labelled a child as dumb he starts believing he is dumb.

Have you heard your friends say “My elder one is very sociable, the younger one just keeps to his books.”

“It’s a waste of money to buy anything for Aditya, he just breaks everything”

“Ankita should always have the last word. She is so argumentative”

Have you ever wondered how such a labeling occurred in the first place? After years of hearing what goes on inside families, I can safely say, often times such typecasting happens innocently at home. For instance when Rhea doesn’t like to wear the dress her mother chose for her,she comments, “You are stubborn like a mule.” Another day the father comes home tired and Rhea insists on him going out with her to the mall because she needs a new dress for the dance next day. He in an exasperated tone complains “You are so stubborn”.Yet another time her brother yells at her “Stop being such a pig head” for not handing him the remote because she is watching her favourite cartoon and he wants to watch his favourite show.

Little by little Rhea begins to act ‘stubborn’ and ’pig headed’. If everyone is calling her stubborn, surely that is what she must be.

You may be wondering “Is it OK to think of my child as this or that as long as I don’t call her by that name?” Can the way a parent think about his child even affect the way the child feels about himself?

The answer is yes. Body language is a powerful medium of communication. Sometimes a look or a tone of voice is enough to tell you that you are stupid, clumsy or smart. How a parent thinks of his child has a deeper impact because it’s simple math. Multiply these few seconds by the number of hours, days and years a child spends with his parents.

Is it OK then to over emphasize on the positive qualities? As long as parents are not trying to project their expectations on the child it is OK. If I’m not an assertive person and allow people to run over me but tell my child ‘You are very assertive’ it’s not likely to work. Modeling is an important aspect of parenting.

How do I undo this typecasting of my child? For whatever reason I’ve cast my child in a role, does it mean for the rest of his life he is stuck with it? No. Not necessarily. If you have realized your role in type casting your child then you have already started the process of undoing it. Here is what you can do.

  1. Model the behavior you would like to see

Dad: I dread cleaning the garden after the storm. But I guess I’ll get started from the front and do one area at a time. By evening I can finish the entire garden this way.

  • Be there for your child when he/she feels they have failed. Give them the reassurance, if possible with a previous instance when they performed a similar task successfully.

Mira: Mom I have to submit this article for my school magazine by tomorrow and I can’t seem to go beyond the first line.

Mom: I can understand your frustration. But I do remember instances when you were able to rise up to the occasion. I remember when you were five and you had to make chart for your KG school project. You came out with such beautiful drawings. And the time when you were seven, how your class teacher made you recite the poem you wrote in the assembly. You were quick to think differently in both occasions.

  • Grab every opportunity to show them a new picture of themselves.
  • Let them overhear you saying something nice about themselves. But before that make sure you resist the temptation to type caste them. Otherwise it will send a confusing message to your child.
  • If your child behaves according to the old type casting simply state your feelings. For instance

My daughter was a picky eater as a child and I couldn’t help feeling responsible for it because that’s what I went around telling everyone who cared to listen. So I just decided to tell her that her habit of wasting food was upsetting me. I was upset because so much food was getting wasted and my effort into making it was not appreciated by her.

  • Avoid using ‘always’ and ‘every time’ while you are pointing out an undesirable behavior. When you say “You are always back answering” you are not only role casting your child but also come across as a whiner yourself. It’s enough to say “Don’t back answer.” You are not only avoiding type casting, but also stating clearly what you want.

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