Labels: Love or Loathe them?

Deb writes...

Are labels a help or hindrance?  Do you love them or loathe them?  Do they change the way you or your child are seen?  Do they change the way you or your child are treated?

What about the labels given to the parents?  Oh yes, we all know they happen.  I asked a group of friends what labels they had been given by family, friends and practitioners and if they thought they impacted on the way people interacted with them.  Some of their responses made me genuinely laugh out loud but some were just a touch too close to home.  So what labels are parents given - do you recognise yourself in any of these?

Labels c. SNJThe Bubble Wrap parent.  Also known as a Cotton Wool parent.  This parent is judged as being too protective, hindering their child's development.  They are seen as not allowing their child to experience life or not allowing their child to take normal risks.

The Bolshy Demanding parent.  Also known as the Rottweiler parent.  This is the parent who is educated and knows what the standards for services should be.  This is the parents who refuses to take "no" as an answer; the parent who will stay up all night reading the Education Act or the Equality Act so they can challenge decisions made.  This is the parent that the good practitioners admire and the bad practitioners detest.

The Competitive parent.  Also known as Oh no, here they come parent.  This is the parent that other parents dread bumping into.  The one who wants to constantly tell you just how much harder it is for them than you.  The one who makes other parents walk away from support groups believing they don't belong there as their child isn't disabled enough.

The Coping parent.  Also known as the Brave parent.  This is the parent who, from all appearances, seems to be dealing with everything perfectly.  They just get on with it - or so it would seem.  This is the parent who never asks for help and rarely, if ever, complains officially.

The Helping parent.  Also known as the Hindering  or Controlling parent.  This is the parent who supposedly hinders their child's development by helping them too much.  The parent who will do "things" for their child instead of allowing their child to learn to do it themselves.

The Neurotic parent.  Also known as the Over Anxious parent.  This is the parent who looks for problems that don't exist.  The one who refuses to accept "they'll do it when they are ready", the parent who thinks their child is not developing at the expected rate.

The Unengaged parent.  Also known as the Hard to Reach parent.  This is the parent that doesn't access services, doesn't respond to surveys; the parent who doesn't always show up for appointments.

SuperMumAnd let's not forget everyone's favourite - the Special parent.  Also known as the Super Hero parent.  This is the parent who  gets told   "I don't know how you do it", "I think you're amazing"  "I wouldn't be able to do what you do" and the ever popular "only special people get special children".

So which label fits you?  If you are anything like me, then you will have heard most of these at one time or another.  Usually I am known as the bolshy, demanding rottweiler (and yes, I was actually called that) and the coping parent.  Oh, and of course, the "Special" parent.  Which means that when I find myself having a bad time and not coping, no one quite knows what to do with me.  I had been put into a lovely little box and I fitted in there nicely - how dare I come out of it!

Often, this is what happens with our children.  They are given a label and society/family/practitioners all have different expectations of what that label means.  For example, Autism can mean "rain man", "no eye contact" or "just naughty" depending who you speak to (and how your child presents at that particular time) but as any parent will know, our children are individuals and have their own personalities.  They also have good and bad days - why should a label change that?

We often label practitioners.  Supportive, waste of time, self-interested, my life-line, pen-pusher and the list goes on.  How often though, have you had met a practitioner and thought they were fantastic, only for a friend to be shocked because their experience had been very different?  Does that mean practitioners are individuals, have their own personalities and have good and bad days too?

So, if this applies to our children and to practitioners, then obviously this means we too are individuals with our own personalities.

Why should a label change that?

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Debs Aspland

Exec Director at Bringing Us Together
Mum of 3, wife of 1, Exec Director of Bringing Us Together, Owner of Inspiring Circles, Writer of Chaos in Kent, Development - South at Community Circles
Debs Aspland
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7 Comments

  1. Tracey smith-McQuillan

    My daughters old school would label me the neurotic parent….my daughter was fine at school though three years delayed but very challeginging a home…..I labelled them wast of space, and moved her to a more caring supportive school who gave me a nicer label…!

  2. TiredMum

    Yes parents are labelled (or rather stereotyped) and that, in my experience, can affect how we are treated by practitioners ie support or no support. And yes it can get as bad as that, in my area anyhow. Not surprisingly if you don’t get the support you start to see those practitioners as unprofessional. If you get the support you probably think they’re wonderful. So does a label help? Not always, it can be hugely damaging if its used to limit resources.

    1. When I was a single parent and desperate for help with my ASD & ADHD son (in the form of respite because I was exhausted), I was made to feel as if I was ‘not coping’, was a ‘bad mother’ and as if I was exaggerating. When I made a formal complaint, they (social services) lied and accused me of neglect. I couldn’t believe what they were saying! It was awful! The school, paediatrician, ASD nurse and all other professionals were wholly supportive of me and did their best. It was just social services who were awful.

      Now I am no longer a single parent, and my son is older and calmer, so I stay well clear of them. I admit I do stereotype social workers in general as unprofessional at best, deceitful and power-hungry at worst. Having said that, I would love to be proven wrong.

      1. TiredMum

        Yes I’ve heard this sort of thing a lot. I’ve even heard people who work within local authorities saying that in some services there is a hatred of parents. I was sceptical about this until I read minutes from a council meeting that was negative in the way it discussed groups of parents. I was appalled because I felt that if people make assumptions of people like this then we’re in danger of not identifying need and providing appropriate support. Its also a barrier in working effectively together because what parent is going to trust a professional if we’re labelled wrongly and consequently treated badly.

  3. Caron Ward

    I guess we all label everyone and everything even without the SN issues but sometimes I also think we get different experiences and reactions from the same practitioners/schools because of the way we are with them. Behaviour breeds behaviour. I think there’s real value being considered to start with then going in bolshy if you need to once you know what needs doing etc…..I guess if you go in bolshy straight off you ruffle too many feathers – but if you’ve built up a relationship first they’ll take more notice of this………Who knows?Ultimately we are who we are and we’ll all react in different ways but SN issues does seem to bring out elements of my personality that I didn’t realise I had. That’s good as well as bad!!

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