November 30, 2020

Hello again!  One of my most memorable experiences occurred during my time of crisis counseling shortly after the 1997 Red River of the North flood. I was working in a Child Care Center, helping young children who had been deeply affected by the flood.  Most had lost their homes and many of their possessions. There were many young children I worked with in various settings, too many to remember their names, so I called some of them Sweetie.

One young boy, whom the teacher told me had spent time in several foster homes and been mistreated, often sat for hours in a sandbox and repeatedly drove his small dump truck back and forth, back and forth, loading and unloading, between his invisible home and a dump grounds.

When I asked him to come visit with me, I called him ‘Sweetie’.  He jumped up and ran around the room, excitedly telling everyone, “She called me Sweetie! She called me Sweetie!”  The emotion in his voice was deep and apparent.

A nickname comes to mirror how a child sees himself/herself and reflects how other children view that child.  Nicknames can affect a child’s self-esteem positively or negatively. Think of the girl who is called “Piggy” because she is a bit overweight, and the boy who is called “Pisser” — the name his mom calls him because he wets the bed at night.  Nicknames come to stand for how we see ourselves.  These derogatory nicknames can zap confidence and self-esteem and be devastating to a child’s development.

In a group setting, name-givers assume a role of power, and bullies are often quick to take advantage of that position. Nicknames connote a deviation from the usual. And then they separate those who are in the group and those who are outside the group.

Children realize when their nicknames are offensive. When children dislike their nickname, they may become withdrawn, refuse to participate in the group; some might fashion a name for the name-giver.

The assigned nickname can also be flattering. A grade school friend with long golden curls liked being called “Goldie Locks,” and the captain of a track team liked being called “Speed.”  A positive nickname can give a child confidence.

Ponder about the nicknames you’ve had in your life and the effect(s) they’ve had on you.


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