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Bukola Afolabi: Peel That Negative Label Off Your Child



dreamstime_l_30060956I cringed inwardly at the fiasco going on beside me as I waited my turn at the salon. The woman sitting next to me had her son with her. He couldn’t be more than three years old, and was as restless as a little boy of that age could be. He wanted to be everywhere else except sitting docilely by his mom’s side, as she wanted. She roughly tugged him back several times and the boy escaped her clutch as many times as he could. She was getting pretty frustrated at the boy’s restlessness, and his next escape attempt earned him a loud smack on the back, as she shouted at him- “You never listen! Stop being so naughty, you are becoming such a stubborn boy.”

I couldn’t help gasping, and to be sincere I think I was more shocked at her words than at the smacking. I had to resist saying- “No! Don’t say that to him”, because I knew at the time she was in no frame of mind to be reprimanded by me, a total stranger.

And here’s the point I think we often miss as parents, we observe our children’s present behavior or seeming behavior and label them by that, failing to recognise that we are reinforcing the very behavior we are contending against or do not want in our children. Don’t call them what you don’t want them to be. Call them what you desire them to be, instead.

I know it can be frustrating sometimes, when it seems we can’t get our children to do what we want them to do; but labelling them based on that, will do more harm than good. Don’t call your child stupid, silly, stubborn, disobedient, lazy, dumb, dull, unfriendly, mean, e.t.c. except that is what you desire to see.

By all means, discipline, correct, set boundaries and consequences. These are part of your role as a guardian for your children; but, don’t undermine your effort by labelling them the exact opposite of who you desire they become. Label them who you desire they become- kind, smart, obedient, respectful, wise, etc. Let these be your words to them- You are becoming such a smart and obedient boy, you are a wise girl, you are kind, etc.

And, we shouldn’t wait till they do something wrong before we tell them what we think of them, which of course will tend towards the negative. Tell them who you think they are, before they do something wrong and not as a quick-fix effort to correct them. Even before they do anything wrong or right, think the best of them and let them know exactly what you are thinking.

It’s been said that people rise or fall to our expectations of them- and this applies to our children too. Expect the best of your children and be vocal about it. Label them right, even when it seems they are doing the exact opposite, soon enough they will catch up on the vibe of your expectations and act in alignment with how you have labeled them.
Let’s peel off every negative label and start to label our children right.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Bukola Afolabi is a parenting enthusiast, who desire to enrich parenting by partnering with parents to raise solutions, children grounded in the knowledge of who they are and the awesome possibilities in them. She founded 2nurture, a fast growing platform for sharing enriching information with parents via and other social media platforms. 2nurture also produces various parenting and childhood enriching resources. You can follow 2nurture on Twitter- @grace2nurture and on Instagram- @2nurture


  1. teegal

    January 25, 2016 at 8:56 am

    This sums it all up “Don’t call them what you don’t want them to be. Call them what you desire them to be”

  2. zendu

    January 25, 2016 at 9:04 am

    Thank you Bukola, I will swallow this hook, line and sinker. Have a wonderful day

  3. My opinion

    January 25, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Well I think it’s great to call your children smart, obedient, etc but I don’t think it’s bad to let your children know when they’re being silly or naughty. Then you try to let them know why naughty is wrong and obedient is good.

    • CY

      January 26, 2016 at 1:40 pm

      totally agree, my 2 1/2 year old nephew doesn’t like to be referred to as naughty. when he does something naughty and you tell him that he is being naughty he stops it and says i am a good boy…it’s cute and that is because we don’t just tell him to stop being naughty, we tell him why he should be good. Like Aunty is very tired and doesn’t want to shout. lol

  4. JADE

    January 25, 2016 at 9:36 am

    So what should she have said in that scenario, oh you are so kind and smart for refusing to listen to me? I totally agree with My Opinion, i won’t call my child stupid or dull or any derogatory word like that, but if you are being stubborn i will tell you to stop being stubborn or naughty and let them know how they are being stubborn and reinforce why they shouldn’t be. Stubbornness is even such a bad trait sef!

    • Nuna

      January 25, 2016 at 10:30 am

      My thoughts exactly. I don’t think what the mom she used in her example said was wrong. You call it as it is even when its children so they know when they are being naughty

    • Tosin

      January 25, 2016 at 4:49 pm

      It’s better to be positive positive positive. Must you emphasize the negative? Have them discuss the negative action or situation or whatever. For example, stubbornness is usually a wonderful thing…it’s persistence, it’s self-belief, it’s confidence. But some people will be there like actual mumu beating their child because he/she to them is a stubborn goat. Lol, so who is stubborn and who is a goat in that scenario?

      Prioritize your and your children’s emotional health; it’s just as important as other aspects that you hustle for everyday.

  5. californiabawlar

    January 25, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Mummy wars in 3-2-1…go!

  6. jess

    January 25, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Everything in life is about balance. While it is good to use positive words with our kids, pointing out to them the things they do wrong Is not bad. That is what the woman did.

  7. Missdodo

    January 25, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Yeah, I use to think like you till I had kids of my own. Now when I witness scenarios like you recounted, rather than think up a long essay on the best way to raise kids, I just help the parent out by distracting the child or getting to ‘know’ the child. That way the child is calm, at least for a while and the parent has some time to catch his/her breath and ease out the frustration. You never know what people are going through, we all react to things differently.

    • Busybody

      January 25, 2016 at 3:02 pm

      There is absolutely nothing with telling a child: Don’t be Silly !!. Nothing whatsoever. I have a 3 and a half year old daughter whom though I do not smack because she knows what’s up when I give her the looks so I don’t get to that stage of smacking as she sharply rearranges herself and also smacking is not allowed in the UK but that’s like heaven compared to how I grew up in Naija where my dad used slaps to tell you you’re bn Silly and when you do something very wrong, you will use your own hand to go and fetch your own cane and then arrange yourself for the lashing lol.

    • slice

      January 25, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Except she didn’t tell the child he was BEING stubborn. She sdYou never listen! Stop being so naughty, you are becoming such a stubborn boy.”

  8. mo

    January 25, 2016 at 10:12 am

    in as much as i am all about spreading positivity especially around your kids, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldnt not correct your child.. the reason why you are the parent and they are the kid is because you know better! Most kids actually know whats right and wrong but they try to ‘test’ you to see if they can get away with bad behviour. so the fact that i tell my kids’dont be naughty’ doesnt mean i have labelled them naughty children.

    PS: i have 2 kids of my own so i know what i am talking about.

  9. Tinuke

    January 25, 2016 at 10:26 am

    This is so me. my son is hyper hyper active. thank you for calling my attention to it.

  10. aurora

    January 25, 2016 at 11:27 am

    all you people and your new age methods to raise kids. what is wrong in telling the child he was being stubborn? wasn’t he being stubborn? with the way you new age people are going, the next generation is going to be a pretty spoilt and pampered generation.

    • Nuna

      January 25, 2016 at 11:47 am

      Haha exactly. I’m going to raise my kids the way I was raised. With a lot of tough love. There’s absolutely nothing with being tough on a child when he messes up. I dont want no brat on my hands please

    • Tee

      January 28, 2016 at 2:49 am

      Exactly right, we keep trying to be westernized and in the end we loose out, even the bible they came with and used to disparage our culture it is said in there ‘SPARE THE ROD SPOIL THE CHILD’ i schooled in Lagos and every holiday we go to village to see Grannys and they will take us to the farm , like 14miles walk we to and fro , when we get there we join in and do farming and also fetch water from the stream and in the afternoon we have food made on the farm there then and when we finish we carry basket of yams and sometimes cassava and even fire wood on our heads, it was a good learning experience for me and my sister we thoroughly enjoyed it, it was a life lesson and it really helped us to be strong and able to cope with different situations in our lives, am sure there are many people like us,if its now it will be termed as child abuse, What is happening now is that what is called social engineering, what we are witnessing is the backdoor approach to further destroy our culture and structure. The so call NGOs are the tools s of the operation, obviously it is not good to curse or abuse but when a child is doing wrong it must be dealt in strong terms, because if the line is not drawn the when the grow up it will be too late, Generally Nigerians pride themselves with good family name and lineage and we work hard to protect our reputation and impact on our children to be of high integrity so as not to belittle their family and their heritage. Generally we have strong family bond but all that seems to be fading now as many kids take up the individualistic approach to life and alienating their roots. In western society it is normal for kids to abuse their parent or even their teacher as nothing much can happen in terms of discipline. As now many of our kids are in prisons and in mental homes as a direct result of lack of discipline, but fact is that when kids of minority does any thing that is against the law they get stiffer punishment ,so this is the more reason we should try within the law to inculcate discipline in our children at young age so that they can at least have a stable life in the west, because as soon as they have criminal record in the west their chances becomes slimmer, though i dear say it is part of the plan. Most of the teaching in the bible is now neglected in the western society because it has served its purpose of which i wont go into. Generally most people get married to have adorable children which they love and care for. Tina baku afieruboju ti ogede baku afi omore ropo ki omo rere gbeyin wa o. amin.

  11. adelegirl

    January 25, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Nice tips Bukola. But like some comments have pointed out, I don’t think there is anything wrong in using words such as naughty, stubborn, etc (of course downright insults and curse words are a No NO) in reprimanding our kids. The most important is showing them you love them after such words are used, you pet them and speak positive words into their lives. Make it a point to not let a negative label linger. Cancel it out by using a positive statement. And of course, never stop praying for your children and laying hands on them when you speak into their lives – so powerful

  12. Blessed

    January 25, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    Coming from an adult women with experience of this from my own mother the negative things she still says to me to this day have a negative impact on me. Imagine she once told me I have a bad heart over something very trivial. I will make a conscious effort to not do all that was done to me as a child and positively affirm and encourage my children.

  13. Damseldam1

    January 25, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    I don’t think the written has children because if she does she should know when a child is naughty and frustrating you you have to let them know. When my children are doing their wahala. I tell them not to be silly and I say something like “you are being so naughty/ stubborn/ I even tell my son that he should not be aggressive like his father lol. At the moment you express yourself according to your emotions. This is different from when parents curses their child to the extreme. When I tell my children how naughty they have been or when I smack them I draw them closer after they have digested what they did was wrong.

    • Tee

      January 28, 2016 at 10:06 am

      By telling the child not to be like his dad imply that the dad is bad person, so what are you doing being with their dad ? if you have issue with your partner try to find ways to resolve it and have a good stable family; not by telly the children that their dad is bad will make them do what you require of them, that is really bad parenting even worse than cursing you can not have peace in the home like that.

  14. Busybody

    January 25, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling a child: Don’t be Silly !!. Nothing whatsoever. I have a 3 and a half year old daughter whom though I do not smack because she knows what’s up when I give her the looks so I don’t get to that stage of smacking as she sharply rearranges herself and also smacking is not allowed in the UK but that’s like heaven compared to how I grew up in Naija where my dad used slaps to tell you you’re bn Silly and when you do something very wrong, you will use your own hand to go and fetch your own cane and then arrange yourself for the lashing lol.

  15. fabulicious

    January 25, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    This one na just story..You sound like all these new dimensional church colleagues in the office that are sick and they say i am not sick,I am strong….Really..My parents never called me or any of my siblings any degrading name but they will never hesitate to flog you and tell you when you were being stubborn and we all turned out well..I speak positively into the life of my children everyday but i won’t tell them they are smart when they are almost making me pull out my braids from my scalp..Everybody do you please.. I,fabulicious,a mum of 3 will not be taking this advice.

  16. TP

    January 25, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    Total Rubbish, Absolute nonsense. I was told i was naughty when i was naughtyand told i was good when i was good. Most of us go copy the nonsense we learn abroad and want to impose it on Nigerians. Our system is in n way like theirs. They have a welfare system we dont, we are taught to survive on our own. So go ahead treat your child the way you want to and when he/she comes out soft and not able to withstand this hard country then you ask yourself what have you done.

  17. molarah

    January 26, 2016 at 7:35 am

    I think people are commenting without reading the article properly. The mom in the post literally prophesied into her son’s future (I don’t want to use the more severe Word “curse”). She didn’t call out her son’s behaviour as you are suggesting, but she labelled her son; as one who never listens, a naughty and stubborn boy. Please note that a behaviour a person displays may be different from their identity (who they are). Even when your kids are behaving badly, don’t curse them with that bad behaviour but tell them the positive behaviour you expect from them. In this example, the mother may have said “Junior, be a good boy and sit quietly” or “Junior, this behaviour is naughty. You know you are a good boy, sit quietly, mummy will soon finish”. It’s important to describe the behaviour you want to see, rather than just calling out the wrong they are displaying. And it’s not modern parenting, it is very helpful to the kids o.

  18. Tee

    January 31, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Follow up to my previous post, what i state few days ago about how many Black and ethnic minorities are disparaged and are given stiffer sentences whenever they are in contact with the justice system has just been confirmed on BBC news today, Here google ” sentencing race divide ” it also goes into university placement admissions; most of us are deluded in euphoria of living in the west thinking they are citizen and so are equal., it is all good on paper you are said to various rights, but the moment you try to claim the right you will find out it is not what you think, this is why we as parent must do whatever it takes to ensure our kids are well grounded in moral discipline so as not to fall victim of the system. We have to come to realization that we are alien here; it is all well and good to pamper your kids but when they misbehave it is important that they are reprimanded in strong terms that certain behaviors are not acceptable . Most of us have lost our identity and culture while trying to adopt foreign ways, Ko omo re kole fun o nisimi !

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