The Three Dangers of Labeling - A Must-Read for Camp Employees, Teachers and Parents!

We live our lives surrounded by labels. We see them in supermarkets, advertisements, and we even use them subconsciously throughout the day. However, we never stop to realize the dangers of using labels as they apply to people, and more specifically, to children. In school, labeling manifests itself as peer pressure for children to do better and meet the expectations of parents, teachers and people who administer state and national exams.

Often in camping, we tend to label children without realizing the dangers inherent in such pigeonholing. From lowering self-esteem to eliminating motivation, labeling children can be detrimental.

I.              When you label a child, it closes the mind of the person doing the labeling. Once you have decided that a child acts a certain way, lacks certain athletic ability, or does not know how to get along with his or her peers, there is little that the youngster can do to change your mind. This makes it virtually impossible for the child to rise to the level of expectation you have for the other campers. It is important to remember that NO ONE rises to LOW expectations.

II.            Children who are labeled do not always make it obvious that their feelings are hurt. They might not be able to verbalize their emotions and some have been negatively labeled so often in their lives, they don’t even show how they feel in their expressions. This makes it very difficult to see how much damage is actually being done to the individual involved.

III.           Contrary to what some believe, even POSITIVE labeling may result in a negative outcome. A camper who is labeled a “jock” or super athlete will feel an enormous amount of pressure to score the winning touchdown, hit the winning home run, for fear of losing the label of “best athlete in the group”. We have seen what these pressures to perform at high levels have done to professional athletes; imagine what they do to a child!

Camp and school must always be a place where children constantly feel safe both physically AND emotionally. You cannot have one without the other! A young person must feel SAFE TO FAIL. It is then the responsibility of the caretaker, be it a counselor, group leader, or director to assist the camper in navigating the skills necessary to improve in whatever area is deficient. Whether it is sports, communicating with peers or adults, this is the time to take advantage of the situation and help the child gain confidence by teaching positive ways to address the situation.

It is most important to note that the same dangers of labeling hold true to staff members. How often do we call one counselor or group leader a superstar, while we say another is lazy? When a staff member gets wind of that kind of negativity, what is his/her motivation to try harder? We must ask ourselves what we can do to bring poor performing staff members to a higher level.

Since it takes TEN positive strokes to make up for ONE negative stroke, it is most important that we focus on the positive whenever possible and leave the labels where they belong…..on the Campbell’s soup can!

Teachers - How to Handle and Prevent Negative Behavior

When students misbehave in my classroom I always try to handle the problem myself. I call the student out of the room, every time. I often get asked, “Why can’t you talk to me here?” My answer is always “What I want to discuss with you is nobody else’s business and I am willing to give you my undivided attention so I would appreciate yours for a minute.” Never get into an argument with a student in front of the class. You will always lose. If you have to prove that you are in charge, then you are not in charge. People who are in control of their room don’t need to show it, EVERYBODY knows.

When I write up a student’s behavior I usually read it to the student and leave it on my desk. I tell him or her that if he can change his behavior for the rest of the period, I will tear up the form. However, there will be no other chance. Actions speak louder than words so if they say, “OK” I answer, I know you can behave, just show me that I am right. Ninety percent of the time I am able to tear up the written form. When a dean gets a complaint from me, it is taken very seriously. I don’t send gum chewers to someone else. Handle your own problems and soon you will see that you don’t have any. For example, I do not allow students to put their heads down in my classroom. I never allow them to sleep. Some teachers do allow classroom naps, believe it or not, but this is highly unprofessional. I take the student outside of the room and say, “If something at home is creating an atmosphere where you can’t get enough rest at night, perhaps I can help you. But, you cannot sleep in my room. I am responsible for your education and sleeping is not part of that education, sorry. Let me know if I can help you with any problems that are making you so tired.” Tell the student exactly what they need to hear without dancing around the point.

I put the onus on them to learn. I also let them know that I take the learning seriously and will make them take it seriously as well, that is my job as an educator. I am willing to help them diffuse any anger they have. My saying, “sorry” gives the appearance that I wish they could rest in my room, but it is not a possibility since I take my job, and their education, seriously. Then I thank them.

Of course, serious infractions need to be handled a bit differently. Hopefully, creating these boundaries will stop serious infractions from happening altogether.

Go to the rooms where learning is always taking place. Learn from the Masters. Pick their brains. It’s an incredible compliment to them and most are eager to help you. Borrow, Learn, and Pass It On!