Limiting Nature of Labels

We label things for convenience, without realizing how these labels limit our thinking.


A discussion centered on the challenges of raising kids with ADHD. One of the participants stated that her mind doesn’t work like her ADHD son’s mind works. I couldn’t help but wonder how many parents over the millennia uttered these same words.

While I have no doubt that ADHD poses additional challenges for parent and child alike, the act of labeling the child with ADHD prevents parents, and family members, from seeing that each and every one of us possesses challenges specific to our natural makeup. Overlooking this reality prevents us from seeing the similarities of our human nature that would help us deal with any challenge we might face.

Seeing similarities

As the aforementioned discussion continued here are some of the similarities that surfaced:

  • The boy’s inability to meet the expectations of his parents and teachers is attributed to his ADHD. Yet he was said to excel in areas that interest him, indicating that he’s very bright. My question to you is: “Who among us doesn’t excel at what interests us, and performs poorly on tasks that don’t?” Success in getting expectations met is a matter of framing the expectation in terms of something the person desires…regardless of what challenges they face.
  • The boy’s maturity was compared to other children his age and his development was said to be two years behind his contemporaries. The reality is that we all develop at different rates for a variety of reasons and in diverse ways rendering these kinds of comparisons counterproductive. I’ve had people tell me that I’m a good strategist and good at directing efforts to a successful conclusion. What most of them don’t realize is that I am a terrible implementer. If the details of the implementation were left to me, accomplishment would be achieved at a much slower rate and probably at a lower level of effectiveness. It’s simply not a strength of mine. Nor is it a skill that I’m interested in developing.
  • Special processes were developed in an attempt to help the boy overcome the organization challenges that ADHD children face. These processes failed. When circumstances removed the daily reminders and processes developed to help him accomplish what he needed to accomplish, the boy managed to achieve the goal on his own. Who among us doesn’t resent others’ attempts to get us to do what we don’t want to do, or to do things in a way that isn’t conducive to our natural style?

These are just a few examples of how labels blind us to the reality that the solutions to the challenges we face, whatever they may be, are often the same. That’s because there’s a commonality to our human nature that transcends genetic and environmental factors affecting our development.

So what’s the takeaway?

For you

When you feel inclined to label someone or something ask yourself “How is this situation similar to others I’ve encountered? What might I be overlooking if I use this label?”

You’ll be amazed at how these questions open your mind to see similarities and, in doing so, find simple, effective solutions that you’d have overlooked had you focused on the differences implicit in the label you were about to use.

For our kids

When you hear kids using labels, ask them the same questions so that they begin to see that the differences implicit in their labels aren’t really as different from what they’ve experienced as they originally thought. As they begin to see similarities rather than differences, they’ll not only avoid the limiting nature of labels; they’ll find it easier to bond with all they meet because they are aware of the commonality of their humanity.

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