Labeling a Child as Lazy is Dangerous

21 April, 2021
Labeling means simplifying. Labeling a child reduces them to a word. This can be both harmful and dangerous. This article explains why.

We often ignore the dangers of labeling a child. Indeed, how many times have we said things like, “He’s such a troublemaker”, “She’s lazy”, “My son is shy”, or “He’s so hyper, he just never stops”.

Labeling usually occurs when parents see certain unwanted behaviors in their children. This leads them to speak without really thinking, not realizing what dangers they might cause. As a matter of fact, saddling a child with a specific label often means they start to comply with them.

If a child starts to be disruptive, they aren’t intrinsically “bad”, they’re just behaving badly. If a child doesn’t pass math, it doesn’t mean they’re “lazy”. Maybe they’re a late developer. Alternatively, perhaps the learning method being used isn’t suitable for them. In fact, we could mention numerous other examples. However, this article centers on the more specific instances of when children are labeled lazy.

An unhappy child.

Labeling a child can cause the Pygmalion effect

The way you relate to the world and the way your attachment figures view you, particularly at an early age, greatly influences your self-concept. Therefore, when parents label a child, they impose qualities on them that might be completely wrong. However, they have an unfortunate tendency to become self-fulfilling prophecies.

In 1965, Robert Rosenthal introduced the term Pygmalion effect. This refers to the phenomenon whereby beliefs and expectations placed on a person influence their performance. For example, if a child has difficulty studying and he’s labeled lazy, he’ll ultimately assume that role and become lazy.

A self-fulfilling prophecy is an assumption or prediction that, purely as a result of having been made, causes the expected or predicted event to occur and thus confirms its own accuracy.”

-Paul Watzlavic-

The dangers of labeling a child as lazy

  • The child might feel undervalued. This affects their identity and self-esteem. Furthermore, it might lead to feelings of anxiety and discomfort.
  • The child assumes the role of their “label” (Pygmalion effect). They believe in the label and will be limited to performing the associated behavior.
  • Labeling enhances the behavior parents want to avoid. Their beliefs about the child become self-fulfilling prophecies.
  • Parents may overlook certain learning issues that can impact the child’s development.
  • They don’t take the child’s feelings into account. Is the child motivated? Might there be an underlying problem that’s not evident? Do they understand the idea of study and the consequences of not doing it?
  • Labeling only focuses on one element of a child’s character. Other elements are forgotten.

Motivation

A child labeled as lazy might hide certain difficulties they have. However, this might only serve to make them appear even lazier. In fact, there are many learning difficulties that cause a lack of motivation. Therefore, you should always bear this in mind. Nevertheless, whether or not the child has learning difficulties, the aspect of motivation should always be taken into account.

Motivations drive and maintain a person’s behavior towards specific goals or purposes. Since motivation gives energy and direction to behavior, it’s considered the cause of the behavior. Therefore, motivation greatly influences children’s learning and growth and will determine their development.

An unhappy child.

What can you do if your child lacks motivation?

Here are a few pointers:

  • Beware of expectations. Indeed, high expectations can be counterproductive. In fact, your child might not even try because they’re so afraid of failing. This is because children are extremely responsive to the expectations that are placed upon them.
  • Remember that labeling a child as lazy is dangerous. Therefore, avoid this at all costs. Labels are powerful and very influential.
  • Make sure you positively reinforce every small achievement of your child. Furthermore, maintain the encouragement in order for their motivation to continue.
  • Focus on the process and not the end result. Count every day of study and effort as a small step along the road to success. See every day as a new challenge.
  • Get in touch with professionals. They’ll be able to assess your child and discover if there are any underlying learning difficulties.
  • Encourage communication. Avoid shouting and negative words. Instead, use assertiveness and positivity in your conversations. How you communicate determines its purpose. For example, if you want your child to share their emotions with you and you shout at them, they probably won’t explain how they feel at all.
  • Strengthen your child’s study techniques. In fact, find out which methods suit them best and reinforce them.
  • Establish educational standards and promote your child’s autonomy. It’s important for them to understand that there are consequences to their behavior. Furthermore, that they must take responsibility for their actions. In fact, they need to realize that their daily chores are theirs and they must carry them out themselves.

Final note

As you can see, you can take many steps to make a child work harder. However, calling them or treating them as lazy most definitely won’t help them improve in any way. In fact, it’ll only decrease their motivation. Consequently, they’ll show less initiative and willingness to take on any challenges.

  • Watzlawick, Paul. The Invented Reality. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,Inc.
  • Piaget, J., y Inhelder, B. (1997). Psicología del niño (Vol. 369). Ediciones Morata.
  • Piaget, J. (1987). El criterio moral en el niño. Ediciones Martínez Roca.