Do we need to keep labelling our kids? Must we prod and probe every behaviour, mood, emotion, flip out, tantrum and bad day until we have a definitive name, strategy or prescription? Could we sometimes just take a step back and take each kid on their own merits? Maybe look at their individual circumstance? Or do we need to constantly evaluate and categorise in order to give each child the best chance at collective strategising and access to the best start in life?
Firstly let me say there are definitely occasions when a diagnoses is warranted and should be sought out to give kids the greatest chance of living with certain conditions. We know that early intervention can have an enormous impact on the outcomes of children who suffer certain challenges . So that is not who I am talking about.
I read recently that ‘toddler tantrum syndrome’ was actually being discussed as a psychological disorder to be added to the DSM-V, which is the official medical diagnostic journal put out by the American Psychiatric Association and used by the medical profession worldwide. Actually it will be called Temper Dysregulation Disorder. I didn’t make that up. I also read that there is a possibility grief will be added as a psychological disorder as well. This scares me to say the least. It may seem far fetched but with diagnoses like these, doping a kid up with some drug to curb the effects of toddler tantrum syndrome could be an all too common reality.
Does giving a diagnoses of ‘something’ give people an excuse to continue certain behaviours? Do we miss whats going on due to the ‘get out’ of a label? We now know more and more about the ability of the brain to make changes over time and be worked on like any other muscle. If we label someone, are we assuming this is not possible? Are we assuming it is what it is and we ought not try to change?
When I worked for an organisation that counselled kids, nearly every single child I saw came with some preordained ‘condition’, ‘illness’ or ‘diagnoses’. In the end I started to ignore these as despite more often than not being incorrect, they stopped me from being able to look at the bigger picture. The boy that was apparently suffering ‘ADHD, Conduct Disorder and had been on and off depression medication since he was 5′ was in fact suffering from ” a father that willingly left him to make a new life with a new family and a mother who was never home due to trying to hold down 2 jobs’ syndrome. I also counselled a girl whose “willful anger management issues” were more to do with not having a bed to call her own and a mother who cared less if she turned up to school rather than some inbuilt psychological disorder. It was a bed, support and good role models that were needed rather than anger management strategies.
Sometimes labels are good. They give people answers they have craved. They give them strategies. They give them support. They may even give them funding and access to resources. Sometimes there are not always labels for our kids however. Sometimes they don’t fit neatly onto any spectrum, disability or disorder evaluation questionnaire. For these kids no label means they may in fact be further disadvantaged. Had they fit nicely into a group of behaviours or disabilities, they may have had greater access to help and support.
This is where the labels frustrate me. I hope one day we can look at each child as an individual. A child that needs to have all aspects of their life assessed to see where the help is needed and why. I hope one day a child can just have a range of issues that need addressing individually. I hope that we can teach our kids to their strengths rather than moulding them into the ‘norm’ or making allowances because of their ‘label’. Sometimes I think it is heading that way, then I hear about medical professionals, educators and parents trying desperately to explain why Johnny has a tantrum that is unreasonable, or why Sally prefers her own company at preschool to others. Is it so bad to call little Johnny or Sally just a bit ‘different’ to some of the others? Maybe there are other elements at play.
“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” L.M.Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
What do you think about labelling our kids? Are we over doing it? Do we need to take a step back and let them be kids for a while. Or is this too simplistic? I would love to know your thoughts. Or if your chid was diagnosed with something, how does that label help or hinder your child? Do you know their thoughts on being given a label?