Labels have a way of creeping into our language. At first, we may mean to describe a behavior, particularly one that is undesirable. But when a label is used over and over, it stops describing the behavior and, instead, declares that behavior to be a fundamental truth about the other person. With kids, I’m talking about things like shy, picky, stubborn, bossy, or a crybaby.
Kids have a way of rising (or falling) to our expectations of them. Call a girl bossy, and she learns to keep her opinions and her innate desire to lead to herself. Call a boy a crybaby, and he learns to stuff his emotions deep inside. Call a kid a picky eater, and they become even more resistant to trying new things. Sometimes these labels come out in a well-intentioned way; we are embarrassed that Jimmy won’t greet Uncle Sal, whom he hasn’t seen in two years, so we explain it away as shyness. But kids take our words as absolute fact, and they are likely to see themselves exactly as they think we see them.
Also, avoid globalizing language like, “you always…” or “you never…” It’s not motivating or supportive for a child to try change a behavior if they know you see it as an inevitable, embedded part of who they are. Instead, you can say something like, “You seem to get frustrated when…” or “How can I help you to…?” It’s the difference between attributing a behavior or emotional response as a fixed part of who they are, versus something situational that you can help them through.