Labels, Labels, Labels : Let’s stop labelling children shall we?

Labelling children and why we need to stop via Toby & Roo :: daily inspiration for stylish parents and their kids.

Labelling children is a dangerous thing to do – you can’t just slap an ADHD label on a child because they behave differently.

****POST EDIT****

After I shared this post I had an overwhelming response of people saying one of two things – the majority was that they were grateful someone else had shared their experience and they too had suffered from the label game. The second response was that children who are DIAGNOSED are done so for a reason and I was being insensitive. I want to reiterate, and make it abundantly clear, this is NOT about children being labelled once diagnosed – a diagnosis and a label are two very different things. Children who are diagnosed are done so through a painstaking process that takes years – not someone who throws the term out like confetti at a wedding. To those that misunderstood my point – I hope that clarifies it, because my point still stands. Stop labelling children.

I read a piece recently about labelling children and how the mother (and writer) was sick of hearing people say they didn’t want a label for their child, that it was a positive thing to help accommodate understanding for children who needed that extra bit of help, how it must be embraced by parents. As I read the piece I couldn’t help but feel irritated by the author. As a mother of an autistic child, she was in a unique position where a ‘label’ would help her child, and hopefully help her to get the tools that she needed to further her child’s education and help them live a life that is more centred to the way they see the world and helps others to see it through their eyes.

This mother did not represent the thousands of mothers who she was throwing her bitter rhetoric at, and she didn’t represent me.

My son is now four years old, he is bright, intelligent and cheeky. He has the attention span of a knat (unless it is about transformers) and he is flighty when it comes to work ethic. He is not, nor has he ever been, autistic. He doesn’t have ADHD. He doesn’t have Aspergers or hyperactivity.

When Reuben was about 18 months old, we made the decision to send him to a local nursery and preschool (I’ve mentioned it a few times on the blog) and initially Roo grew in confidence and flourished. Until he moved from the nursery side of things to the preschool. Then we started to have problems. Within a matter of weeks we were told that Reuben was an unusually hyperactive child, and he might have some kind of hyperactivity disorder. A few months passed and we were told that ADHD might be on the cards, and eventually, we were told that it was the owner’s belief that Reuben had Aspergers. He was 3 years old at this point.

Now as first time parents (to Reuben) we did everything we could to look into this – there were tears and upset because we were frightened that people would see our beautiful boy as ‘abnormal’ or a ‘weirdo’, but our overwhelming feeling was that, if it was best for Reuben then who the hell cares what ‘label’ he has? Until we discovered that we weren’t the only parents who had been told this, until we discovered that we were one of several families to be told by the preschool that our child was ‘suspected’ to be autistic, have aspergers or ADHD. Unfortunately, among the health professionals in the area this particular place has a bad reputation for ‘labelling’ children that aren’t easily manipulated and don’t comply to every instruction or just sit quietly and work/read. The further I dug into the situation, the more I discovered that it isn’t at all unusual for children to be labelled as a cop out – in fact it is quite a common practice.

To me, some children (Reuben being one of them) test boundaries more thoroughly – and rightly so, we need to remember that children are human beings, with their own views and ideas. That is exactly how it should be, as parents, teachers and influential adults, we are there to guide children and help them make the right choices, not to squash their personalities and replace it with ours – or if we can’t do that, label them as ‘different’ or having a disorder. As adults, I feel it’s also our responsibility to allow children to test the boundaries that we put in place, but to hold firm to those boundaries – to be strict. I don’t feel that a child who requires you to be a stricter adult therefore needs you to label them, if anything that is such lazy teaching or parenting. I’m not talking about children who obviously require help at school, or in life in general, my husband’s nephew is Autistic and its a blessing he has the help he does, I’m talking about children who are ‘naughty’ in school, extroverted (or introverted) in their attitudes and sometimes struggle to make friends. Instead of ‘labelling’ these children, how about we ask them simply questions like, what made you hit so and so, is there a reason you don’t want to play with your friends, etc etc.

I’m not saying its easy, or something to be taken lightly – every parent should be aware that there are various ‘conditions’ (I don’t like to use the word disorders, it makes it sound like something wrong) that make their child see the world differently to others, but you have to realise that children also see the world differently to adults and we need to adjust our expectations to meet their ability, not push a label onto them so that we can make sense of their behaviour more comfortably.

Harriet x


  1. Avatar March 15, 2016 / 6:47 pm

    I do agree with you. No child should be labelled. I know someone who said her child was ADHD and he wasn’t even diagnosed. Shouldn’t label a child before a diagnosis! x

    • Harriet March 15, 2016 / 8:52 pm

      Thanks Beth 🙂 H x

  2. Avatar March 14, 2016 / 10:50 pm

    Such a emotional subject for anyone! Kids are kids and some will push it, some will sail through things and some will just drift along. However some will need that extra help and that ‘label’ helps get that.

    • Harriet March 15, 2016 / 3:14 pm

      I agree Stephanie – it’s something that really can be helpful, but by over using it we make it less so 🙂 H x

  3. Avatar March 10, 2016 / 10:44 pm

    My brother & sister in law were told that my 3 year old niece might be autistic by her nursery. Their reasoning was that she played by herself and didn’t like loud noises. My sister in law had a newborn baby at this point and was obviously emotional enough as it was. Doesn’t look like my niece is autistic after all, but either way I do think that telling parents this on nothing more than a hunch is just madness!

    • Harriet March 11, 2016 / 10:09 am

      Absolutely Sarah, don’t get me wrong I see nothing wrong with the raising of concerns but when a child is so little, and going through changes – well, it makes no sense to me. H x

  4. Avatar March 10, 2016 / 10:43 pm

    Dear me, the nursery staff needs reported, this sort of unfounded labeling can cause so much concern and upset! I did find private nurseries quite strict myself, Emma started playing up when she was around the same age and I was told off for her eating behaviour. Not very nice when you try to hold a full time job and the people who are meant to look after your child during the day seem more concerned about their peace and the discipline than the child.xx

    • Harriet March 11, 2016 / 10:10 am

      Thanks Oana – I did in the end, this is quite an old post and sadly we discovered a lot of things going on… turns out there was more than just labelling! So sad! H x

  5. Avatar March 10, 2016 / 8:04 pm

    I fully understand your point and have to agree. Children all push boundaries, some in more ways than others. But before labelling them and giving them reason to act up we should be letting them test those boundaries on their own terms. Not comparing their behaviour to other children. Of course if it’s obvious a child has an issue that’s a different matter but that’s after letting them attempt to push those boundaries first. x

    • Harriet March 11, 2016 / 10:12 am

      That is totally where I’m coming from – I want to make sure that we get the help required for children that need it, but we won’t if we hand out labels like candy. H x

  6. Avatar
    June 12, 2015 / 1:40 pm

    Love it and so right! As a mum if a spirited, energetic boy and a former school teacher, I have encountered this many times. Everyone is a psychiatrist/psychologist who feel if your child is outside the box there must be something wrong. How about (especially boys, but certainly some girls too) are just buzzing with energy and physical activities are more suited to their personality than sitting all day at a desk. How about getting off your behind and cater to those children so they can learn in a taylored environment.
    I once taught a 14 year old boy who was labeled as ADD, he would never seat still and walked around the class provoking other kids, he was clever but was falling behind. I made a deal with him, he could stand up, walk around the class as long as he didn’t disturb other kids and he had to stop getting a coke and mars bar for breakfast every morning. I made him class chief and he was in charge if I had to leave the classroom, he flourished did well and I never had any further trouble from him!

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