The Power of Claiming a Label

When I was teaching, every year Mrs. Nichols would visit our school. We would gather on the uncomfortable pull-out bleachers in the gym and try to keep our students from I like myself!I like myself!I like myself!fidgeting too much. Mrs. Nichols was an energetic woman and would throw candy to kids who were sitting still and listening. Her job was to get the students excited about our yearly fundraiser of selling cheap wrapping paper in order to fill in funding gaps. (Lesson? Always vote to increase school funding.)

Before she would start the real assembly, Mrs. Nichols would have us all stand up, do a little dance, and repeat, I like myself! I like myself! I like myself!

This little dance and mantra made me highly uncomfortable. At 8-years-old, most of my students did like themselves. Why would they need this cheesy reminder? It wasn’t until I was complaining about Mrs. Nichols to Frank that I learned this was a common motivational speaking trick. The whole fake it till you make it or name it and claim it mentality.

As teachers, we practiced this in the classroom. When I started teaching, the trend was to call our students writers and artists and mathematicians and historians whenever we were teaching that particular subject. Sometimes it felt natural. When we were in the midst of writer’s workshop and working toward publishing our stories or an anthology of poetry, I found myself calling my students authors and poets.

Other times it felt completely fake. I had trouble calling my kids mathematicians as they struggled to remember the difference between quarter-past the hour and a quarter of a dollar. Learners sounded more natural at that point than mathematician.

The other day, Bea told me that she was going to be a leader during the day and an artist in the evening. I asked her what she would do as a leader and she responded, Oh, you know. Leadership things.

Maybe naming it and claiming it with kids feels unnatural because they already do it so well. My students set the bar high. If their dreams become reality, I’ll have taught future Broncos quarterbacks, millionaires, and movie stars. And maybe those dreams will come true. But most likely not, which is totally fine.

I struggle with claiming my dreams. I still flounder when talking about writing or the places I volunteer. I second guess my dreams and interests and label them as hobbies or just something I do during nap time.

There’s power in labels, certainly. We just celebrated Mother’s Day and I know for a lot of women, this is a label filled with conflicting emotions. In these intense years, it’s a label I feel like I have earned and one that is continually defining me. It’s a label that I’m learning means so much more than simply giving birth to two girls.

I’m learning to balance labeling things I know to be true, things I hope to be true, and the reality of what is true. I’m learning that, when I am confident with certain labels about myself, I am modeling confidence for my girls.

So, as Bea strives to be a leader, I’m encouraging her leadership skills now by calling her a leader. I don’t use the label flippantly, but I am on the lookout for those times when she is exhibiting those powerful skills. And I’m learning that the more I name her talents, the more confident she is in claiming them.

What are your views on naming and claiming labels? What are some labels that come naturally for you? Are there others you’re wishing to claim more confidently?


Published by

Annie Rim

Welcome! I live in Colorado with my family and have taught in the classroom, at an art museum, and now in the playroom. I reflect about life, faith, and books here on my blog.

7 thoughts on “The Power of Claiming a Label”

  1. This sounds a lot like me. Mom is a label that was comfortable to claim. But when Henry tells me I’m a good teacher I shake my head telling him, no, I’m not. So far we haven’t changed each others minds 😉

    1. Claim it, Debby! 😉 Isn’t it funny how those closest to us can see labels that we have trouble owning? Probably a good thing they’re around…

  2. Wonderful blog, Annie! Labeling our children with positive labels helps to strengthen their social-emotional health. I don’t struggle with labeling children because I want to dispel the negative speech they hear daily. I do however, hesitate to pin a positive label on myself. I need to work on that. All through God’s word he calls me exactly what I am in him. He has set the example I/we need follow. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. It does seem easier to give others positive labels than to accept what we know about ourselves. Learning to live confidently in who God has made me – such a necessary example for my daughters but also for me! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I’m not really a fan of naming and claiming labels, largely because it can dilute the label’s meaning, and can become a sort of theft.

    ‘Warrior’ is a good example. There are those who call themselves ‘prayer warriors’ or ‘social justice warriors’, and the upshot is that those who have, by sweat, sacrifice and blood earned the title in its true sense now eschew it. It’s been stolen. (Now, tongue firmly in cheek, I call myself a Jedi, but wait with resignation for the rise of the Personnel or IT Jedi. Sigh.)

    In other things, too. I can fly an aeroplane but won’t call myself a pilot, I write but am no writer, can weld but am not a welder. The titles are honorific, to be conferred on professionals, and I am comfortable in my minor role.

    I’m not sure that labeling children is healthy in the longer term, when they realize that there’s a lot more to the name than its being claimed. I wonder if it might cause them to down tools in dismay?

    1. I think that’s what made me cringe mostly…. People have worked hard for their labels, though practice or education or hard work. Giving them without that work seems a bit degrading to those whose lives are made through the labels. (I felt that same way with the word “hero” after 9/11. By calling everyone heroes, it diluted the actual heroism that was happening…)

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