Positive Labeling

As you come to the realization that you are living with a spirited child, you desire to move quickly from a place of reaction to a place of pro-action. One simple technique that helps reframe both your mood and your child’s is Positive Labeling.

Positive labeling? It sounds too simple to work, but it does. Studies have shown that when you expect good things, your behavior changes. Your outlook and vision become more positive and focused and the world responds accordingly. Keep in mind that children, and most adults too, thrive when affirmed.

As parents, it is easy for us to fall into the vicious cycle of using negative labels or only noticing the negative traits our children possess. However, if we look more closely at those negative traits, we often can see strengths which we admire in adults but can be difficult to manage in children. Accentuating the positive or at least reframing the negative becomes a tool to help unlock the cycle of negativity.

List the negative labels you use with your child. Now transform those negative labels to positive ones. Practice using them every day until they become part of your family’s everyday conversation and language. Big successes are built on small steps over time. Remember, "Progress not Perfection" is the key.

Here are some thoughts on the subject of Positive Labeling from parents of spirited kids:

*****"I found this whole idea wonderfully helpful at the beginning because it let me see and appreciate some of the delightful things about my sk." (Robin M)

*****Noted spirited child author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka comments,

"It begins by simply changing the words we use to describe them and promising ourselves to drop the negative labels and replace them with words that identify the potential strength."

***** In her book, "Living with the Active, Alert Child," Dr. Linda Budd states:

"Accepting and affirming your child is central to building his self-esteem. It is not easy to do this in our society, which often negatively characterizes an active, alert child, as if something were wrong with him or with the parents who created such an anxiety-ridden, fearful, active child."

Dr. Budd then goes on to suggest the following parenting strategy:

"Respond to such messages by telling yourself, ‘This child was born into the world with his unique, wonderful disposition.’ If you ‘blame’ your child or yourself for his temperament, you do two things. First, you discount the good characteristics of your child. Second, you say, in effect, that there is something inherently bad about your child. That destructive message prevents your child from being loved."

*****"One of the great things about choosing a label like ‘spirited’ is that it’s not a diagnostic label. I see it more as a way of encompassing many different personality traits into one word that best describes the child in a positive, not medical way." (Robin E.)

*****"Overall the positive labeling has been a boon for us. Even if I don’t remember to use it all of the time (who would?) it’s changed the tone of my general interactions with him. And I find that having the positive spin somewhere in my head makes me better at reframing some of his experiences for him while they are happening." (Karen) 

*****"This is one of my stronger areas because it came so naturally. I had been doing this since J was a baby, so as she grew, the language grew with her. It wasn’t such a shock for people to hear me speak of her or refer to her in a positive light. Since it is such a part of who I am, it was seamless. With both of my SKs, they use the positive labeling or languaging already." (K.)

*****"My SK, Mitchell, is 3. He likes watching tv, listening to music, singing and dancing, looking at books and doing jigsaw puzzles. He dislikes sitting still and being told what to do. Mitchell’s strongest spirited traits are energy and intensity, with a good dose of persistence and perceptiveness. He is very bright, very imaginative, and can be very sweet. He can also drive a person crazy inside a minute. I am optimistic that his intelligence and strong personality will take him far in life once he learns to use his traits in a positive way." (Aimee)

*****"I wish for my sd to always be herself and stay true to herself. I worry that she will be molded into something she is not. I hope that I can teach her to manage her traits so that she does not lose them but is able to bless others with the many special things she possesses. She has always known herself well and does not compromise her principles. She will continue to be an independent thinker and I know she will find the path that makes her the happiest. If she can’t find one, she will carve one out!!!!! I am blessed to have been touched by her and equally blessed that her brother does not appear to be a spirited child!!!!!"(Sharon)

Suggested Positive Labels (taken from "Raising Your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka):

Old, Negative Label








New, Positive Label




Holds high standards





Other positive descriptions:

Affectionate - Innovative - Confident - Bright - Creative - Persistent - Determined - Sensitive - Dramatic - Passionate - Imaginative - Funny - Caring - Competent - Perceptive

Affirmations (from "Living with the Active Alert Child" by Linda Budd, PhD.)

It’s okay to be active and curious.

It’s okay to experiment with ideas, it’s okay to explore options.

It’s okay to be different; you can know who you are.

It’s okay to disagree; it’s okay to agree.

It’s okay to do things differently from the way I do them.

I will take your feelings seriously.

You can be powerful and still have needs.

You can use the energy from your anger to solve problems.

You can play and be silly and still be in control.

It’s okay to forgive yourself; I will forgive you.

It’s okay to be ordinary.

You don’t have to be perfect; it’s okay to make mistakes.

You can trust your feelings to help you know what to do.

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