A parent informed us that her child had been ‘diagnosed as mildly dyslexic’.
I resisted laughing, it sounded like a menu in a Nandos restaurant describing the degree of spiciness. I asked the parent to explain what ‘mild’ meant.
She noticed her child would mirror letters sometimes and display difficulty in reading occasionally. When she consulted a professional, she was told her child had mild dyslexia that would be corrected with more practice in writing and reading.
I question the value of diagnosing and labeling the child.
In the absence of such evaluation and diagnosis, both the school and parent would have observed the child shows weakness in writing/reading. For inconsistency in writing or reading, I would suggest that more practice would benefit. The child would receive more practice, become more consistent in his reading/writing and move on with life without a negative label.
Being prematurely diagnosed as dyslexic, or in other cases such as hyperactive, trouble-maker or other negative labels can become what the child believes to be his definition and subsequently a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A couple of weeks ago, I was queuing to meet my older child’s primary school teacher during orientation and couldn’t help overhearing the exchange between another parent and the teacher. When asked to describe her child, the parent said, ‘he’s very naughty. He doesn’t listen to me. His teachers in the previous kindergarten call him a troublemaker. I hope you can make him a better boy.’ The class teacher smiled and quietly scribbled ‘naughty, troublemaker’ next to the child’s name.
A few weeks later, school had started. My child came home with stories from school everyday. The child whom the mother described as naughty was called out and corrected by the teacher everyday. ‘Today, he was corrected six times, mommy,’ my child told me.
Was this child truly a ‘trouble-maker’ or was this a classic Golem effect, where lower expectation leads to lower outcome?
‘Mommy, we were helping the teacher watch out. Whenever he does anything wrong, we are told to tell the teachers.’ My child confirmed my suspicion.
Here’s corollary to the Golem effect.
In a study, researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson told elementary teachers certain students in their class scored the top 20% percentile of a test and would enter a accelerated learning potential period. In fact, these students were selected randomly and did not score any different from the others.
A year later, the researchers returned to conduct the IQ test on these ‘bloomers’. This time, the bloomers actually scored 10-15 IQ points higher than the control group. This leads to the conclusion that teacher expectations can affect student achievement or now known as the Pygmalion effect, whereby higher expectations lead to an increase in performance.
The Pymalion effect and the Golem effect are not limited to teachers and students. The expectations of any leader (parents, psychologists, pediatricians, boss, colleagues, or anyone whose feedbacks we value) have direct effect on a follower’s performance as the latter internalizes these labels.
In addition to having positive expectation, Carol Dweck provides educators and parents a further tool to fostering better learning and behavior.
In her book, ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’, she introduced the term ‘Growth Mindset’. She found that a child’s mindset, how he perceives his abilities, plays a key role in his motivation and achievement.
In other words, a child who believes that he is intelligent (a fixed state he has arrived at), may rest on his laurels and never truly realizes/exceeds his potential. On the other hand, a child who believes that his intelligence can be developed further will continuously put in effort to nurture this aspect.
Labels have a bigger impact on a person than we realise.
Being mindful of the descriptions we give our child can make a positive difference to his or her self-esteem and the person he or she would grow up to be.