Let’s Stop Shaming Our Children

It is all too easy to make a child feel ashamed.

Sometimes it’s even done intentionally to ensure compliance.  But most of the time, I believe parents do it without realizing it’s what they’re doing.  Most of us wouldn’t want to intentionally make our children feel shame. I think what a lot of parents want is to make children feel guilty.  The difference here is that shame is “I am bad” (the core of my being) and guilt is “I did something bad” (an action/behavior I engaged in). I think the intention behind making children feel guilty is noble which is why so many parents do it.  The idea is that if they feel guilty for behaving in a certain way, it’ll teach them a lesson and they’ll begin to behave in the desired way. An example from my childhood comes to mind. When I was 11-years-old I had to sign a contract that I would not talk out of turn in class for 30 consecutive days.  Each time I did, I would be sent to the library. If I protested going to the library, I was immediately sent to the principal’s office. Every time I was either sent to the library or to the principal’s office, the 30 days started over. Only when I could get through the 30 days without being sent away would the contract dissipate.  This contract was between me, my teacher, the principal and my mother. I had no choice but to sign the contract. I was forced to agree to something that I didn’t want to. The lesson here was for me to learn to obey and respect authority figures (the fact that this was the lesson to be learned is a topic for another blog altogether), but the takeaway was this: I felt completely ashamed, distrusted and mistreated.  Something I believe has contributed to limiting beliefs as an adult and to the intense butting of heads between my mother and me a few years later in my teenage years. You guys, this is not to out my mom. My mom is amazing. She was trying to teach me what she thought was a valuable lesson. She was doing the very best she knew how with the information she had. I believe we all are. But when children are ostracized for their actions, they internalize it.  They think “I must be bad if did this thing because otherwise my parent wouldn’t exclude me/make me suffer like this”. Even if guilt was all children felt (vs. shame), I would argue that is a better, more peaceful way to teach the lessons we wish to impart on our children.

So, I ask you to consider another way.  Don’t know how? I want to talk to you. This is exactly what I help my clients with.

I’ll leave you with this:  What if the way to get our children to cooperate was to be deeply connected with them?  I believe this to be true. I believe we lose credibility with our children when we dominate over them.

Laura Markham says it best:

“What matters most: Stay connected and never withdraw your love, even for a moment. The deepest reason kids cooperate is that they love you and want to please you. Above all, safeguard your relationship with your child. That’s your only leverage to have any influence on your child. It’s what your child needs most. –Laura Markham Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting