Learning or Labeling — are we doing it right?

Dr. Aisha Sanober Chachar
4 min readNov 21, 2019


‎نہیں ہے ‎بچے کو پڑہنے کا شوق ‎ Child is not interested in learning

I have often heard words like duffer, jado, dheet. These words are hard to erase from the mind because as much I you don’t want to remember, my brain had associated a specific emotion to it. So much so that when I started watching Stranger Things and was The Duffer Brothers written on the screen I couldn’t help but cringe.

Learning is a developmental process

Children often say, “I studied, but I did/could not learn anything.” It means that the child memorized or read about a topic, but for some reason did not gain any new knowledge or skills.

We must learn to differentiate between learning and studying. To Learn is to gain knowledge or expertise by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing. Studying is to read, memorize facts, attend academic institute to learn about a subject. Studying is one way to learn.

When we say ‘a child is not interested in learning’ it sounds like learning is an object or a toy that the child refuses to play or engage with. I have hardly ever heard ‘Isey toilet jaaney ka shok nahi hai’. It is because parents understand that toilet training is a developmental process and it will take its due time. Thus, It is much easier to empathize with a delay or concern for any physical/visible milestone. Some children might start walking before the crawling stage whereas others progress in a step-wise manner.

What adults need to understand is that every child has a unique set of neurons (brain cells) that are wired in a very peculiar way. Learning is child’s mental capability of using the information effectively to work towards a goal. In school, this goal can be an examination. Learning process follows some steps which is essential for anyone who comes in contact with a child needs to know:

* Input: getting information to the brain through five senses — child’s primary language versus language of instruction, hearing and eye sight related issues

* Register: if all senses are intact, child brain receives the information — this happens when the child is thriving with a balanced need of security, sleep, food, play, security and optimal health

* Making meaning: Once the information is registered, it has to be understood by the various parts of the brain — learning environment, teaching methodology, crowded class, distraction and brain’s learning ability

* Store: Once understood it must be stored for future recall such as an exam — an optimal attention span (paying and sustaining the attention), optimal sleep, and screen time.

* Retrieve: In exams, when brain sends the signal to look for the information asked, it is reproduced either verbally (oral exams) or through muscle activity (writing or drawing).


Labeling is never helpful. When someone labels a child, it is not the action but the person they refer to. This does not only invoke guilt of not being the child/student my parent/teacher expected to be but also feels immense shame. Guilt recognizes that the child made a mistake and child is allowed to make a mistake. Whereas, shame defines a child as an unworthy person. Shame causes psychological damage that impedes growth.

Guilt: “I made a mistake. I will correct this and make it right.”
Shame says: “I am so horrible. How could I ever be a good child/student?”

Research has shown that almost more than 50% of children diagnosed with learning difficulties end up with diagnosable psychiatric disorders. When teachers and parents catastrophize any small mistake without acknowledging child’s struggle (consciously or unconsciously), child’s brain starts firing signals — part of the brain responsible for fear. And if that becomes repetitive, the brain begins to fire most of the time. Hence, an anxious child.

An Anxious Child becomes an Anxious Adult

As the child grows up, any tiny perceived or real threat in the surroundings can take them back to their childhood — the safe space. But what happened in that safe space? The child was scared, anxious, and brain mainly fired all the time, signaling fear. Now, what happens when this child grows up? Child is less willing to take risks, makes hasty decisions and immediately wants to rectify the situation. This grown up brain now tends to fire up put of proportion in any stress provoking situation that reminds this adult of childhood experiences.

Adult’s Role

Role of parents and teachers becomes very crucial for learning. The positive predictive factor for a child with learning difficulties is effective coping skills. If the child is struggling with learning difficulties, child has already formed a low opinion of herself. Be an advocate for the child.

I have touched upon only emotional factors that may impede child’s growth in all domains. The subject of corporal punishment demands a space of its own.

Originally published at http://childpsychling.wordpress.com on November 21, 2019.



Dr. Aisha Sanober Chachar

Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist; Co-founder & Director @synapsepk Mental Health Entrepreneur. Recycled Stardust.Balint Group.Psychoanalysis.Grit 🇵🇰