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No Amount of Shame Will Make Your Child Act Right

This week, I caught myself trying to make my kid feel like crap. She’d hurt my feelings–which have been all over the place lately anyway–and all I could see in that moment was how selfish she was being.

Usually, I’d be able to see her behavior for what it is without taking her actions personally… but not this time. This time, I was tired of giving her the gift of having a mom that is always calm, patient, and neutral when she continually takes advantage of it so I acted on my frustrations. She’d hurt me deeply enough that I stopped thinking about what she needed from me and started thinking about what she deserved.

And, in that moment, she deserved shame and guilt.

Yes, it was as ugly and ineffective as it sounds. For one, she was surprised because I almost never let my kids get an emotional reaction out of me. Her shock caused her to feel immediately emotional, which caused her to cry. And then she was embarrassed that she was crying.

But I was so hung up on what she’d done that I didn’t even care that she was crying. In fact, I was relieved because I thought, “Finally! She has a conscience!”

You know what’s crazy, though? She wasn’t crying because I’d gotten through to her conscience. My lecture didn’t cause some pivotal thought process to happen in her brain and help her mature. All my lecture did was cause her to cry because I’d worked hard to make her feel ashamed, and when I was successful, I didn’t stop talking.

Shame is NEVER a good motivator. Kids outgrow it or learn to think around it, but it also never teaches healthy principles for decision making. Instead of teaching them that their choices (and the choices of others) do not define them, it teaches them that their behaviors are the equivalence of their worth.

It reminds me of the song You Say by Lauren Daigle which says, “Am I more than just a sum of every high and every low?” The singer is asking if she, as a person, is anything more than the average of her good days and bad days, her good choices and bad choices, her triumphs and her sins. Is she just an accumulation of those things, or is she free of the weight of those decisions?

And the truth is that our kids SHOULD BE free of the weight of their childhood decisions. I’m not saying they shouldn’t learn that choices have consequences. They should learn that. But it doesn’t have to come with a helping of shame and guilt. It really doesn’t.

In fact, when kids feel shame, their brains become less capable of learning because they’re anxious. It’s important for us to remember that we’re meant to teach our children, not manipulate them into being who we want them to be. We must teach them to think critically for themselves instead of teaching them to follow a set of black and white rules based on guilt and achievement.

When we make our kids feel shame over their negative choices, we place a weight on them that’s difficult to ever take off. That weight is heavy, and they wear it around their necks like scarlet letters.

We don’t need to make them feel dumb/selfish/unworthy/rude/snotty/whatever else for them to understand that their choice was wrong. They can learn that their choices are painful to other people without feeling negative about themselves.

Shame has no place in parenting, and we can’t yield it as a weapon when we emotionally react to our children’s behavior. If you find yourself trying to get your child to feel bad when you’re giving them a consequence, take a step back, try to figure out why you want them to feel so terrible, and come up with another way to help them learn the same lesson.

If you need more information on that, dig deeper into this blog thread!

No Amount of Shame Will Make Your Child Act Right


W. R. Cummings


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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2019). No Amount of Shame Will Make Your Child Act Right. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/childhood-behavioral/2019/08/no-amount-of-shame-will-make-your-child-act-right/

 

Last updated: 10 Aug 2019
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