What Does Your Label Say?

HELLO My Name IsWe live in a name it to claim it kind of world where we all like to label things. If it doesn’t have a label, it doesn’t make any sense. And if it doesn’t make any sense, we don’t know what to do with it. We even have label makers so that we can make labels for our things. Apparently the names they were assigned by their makers don’t work for us. We have to give them names that fit our views and make sense to us.

Labels are fine for things, but when we start labeling people we start building walls around them and around ourselves. But our lives need to be about building bridges instead of building walls. It’s what Jesus did and it’s what He said we are to do.

I find the only thing necessary for us to assign a negative label to someone, is for them to hold a different point of view than ours. When people don’t agree with us we choose to call them “difficult” or “stupid” and we usually do it at high volume in an unpleasant tone. I suppose adults calling other adults names can, and does, present problems, but at least it’s between adults.

Sadly, that’s not where it stops because we label kids a lot too. Those labels are frequently assigned to our kids at school and sadder yet at church. If they fidget, don’t sit still, or if they talk a lot they are “disruptive” and they are removed from class. If we request minor accommodations like needing to stand instead of sit in class, they are “difficult.” There are times when we are summoned because of their behaviors. There is no shortage of labels waiting to be assigned to our children, and no shortage of adults waiting to assign those labels. I could list many more, but you get my point. If your kid has a few of these things working together then they are given the label that follows them forever. They will be known from that day forward as a “bad kid.”

When others assigning labels to our kids, is that they do it with very little if any, understanding of their histories. The labels are not assigned from a place of empathy but rather from a place of ignorance. That’s a problem.

Some of our kids have been labeled as “bad” or “trouble” because they present behaviors that, on the surface, appear to be just that. The sad reality is that once labels are assigned the labeling tends to snowball and then our kids live in an empathy free vacuum. We (collective) need to remember that they are from hard places and their stories have loss at their genesis. They are not “bad” or “trouble”, they are scared and confused. Let’s give them a chance.

I know that all kids have behavioral issues. But the difference between all kids and our kids is that they usually have to do something to lose the trust of others. However, trust disappears for many when they learn that our kids are adopted, or worse yet in foster care. The worst is assumed, labels are assigned, and those labels don’t help. That’s not right. There’s no justice there. They think that they are helping, but they’re not helping, they’re just making it worse.

I have seen people react in strange ways to our kids. I get that their stories can be scary, but pushing them away is just another scary event for them. We must always remember that our kids didn’t ask for the trauma and the loss that they have experienced. We have to have empathy. We have to remember that behaviors are needs expressed. Let’s not add emotional abuse to the physical abuse they have already endured.

We must reclaim the names given to our kids by their maker. Names like “precious one” and “child of God.” And while we’re at it, let’s claim the names that they have earned, “brave” and “resilient.” Let’s be about the business of connecting with our kids, healing wounds, and building trust. Let’s help those who interact with our kids to see them for who they really are. Brave, resilient, precious children of God.

Ryan North
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Ryan North

Ryan North is the Executive Director of Tapestry, the Adoption & Foster Care Ministry of Irving Bible Church in Dallas, Texas. As Executive Director of Tapestry, Ryan also leads Empowered to Connect. He frequently writes and speaks on connected parenting and ministry leadership.
Ryan North
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