I carry shame about some of my long ago parental misdeeds. A half slap, some yelling temper tantrums, not standing up more to others harming my children or foster children.  This sign applies to me for those behaviors.

But continuing to feel shamed about the past is  useless, well, at least 95% useless. The 5%  would be shame reminding you to not repeat shameful behaviors. Letting go of past negative feelings, particulaly useless shame, is a major part of staying emotionally fit.

Under most circumstances, guilt and shame are emotions adults should ignore. Both are often unreasonable; however, before ignoring either, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. Am I hurting someone physically?
  2. Am I abusing someone emotionally?
  3. Am I taking or destroying someone else’s property?
  4. Am I breaking the law—particularly the big laws that will get me arrested?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, the guilt or shame is justified and the behavior must stop. If you cannot stop such behaviors, get help.

In most other cases, parental guilt or shame should be ignored. Shame should almost always be ignored; it is generally a holdover emotion. The situation might be new, but the shame always has its roots in one childhood experience or another. For example, shame is first seen in children at about the age of 18 months, often when a new baby has entered the household. Based on his studies of the development of emotions in young children, Kagan believes the angry thoughts created in small children when faced with the competition of younger brothers and sisters demands a strong counter-emotion. Shame is that emotion, and it develops when the child becomes capable of hurting smaller and younger beings. Anger says “lash out,” but shame says “don’t you dare.”


Saying “Children Need Shame” will get me in trouble with a great many parent advisors.  But I do have at least three major researchers and theorists on my side.  When I was floundering as a foster parent, coming from a talk therapist point of view, my understanding was to avoid shaming at all costs. My troubled kids needed boundaries and help staying in bounds.  Like most parents of today, I worried more about my foster children’s self esteem more than their behavior.  Fortunately, I was married to a dog whisperer.

When I met David he owned a dog training business.  He now hates over trained dogs, but still knows when to draw lines and how to get dogs to control their aggresiveness. Today’s parents can learn a few things from dog whispers. That is another statement that might make trouble for me, but David’s tactics were the ones that worked.  They were the opposite of mine.

Mother dogs and dog trainers know that the first lesson a young one needs to learn is to curb their aggressiveness.  I am convinced that is why babies and puppies are born small .   Mother dogs grabbed a badly behaving puppy around the neck and give him or her a good shake.  A well trained dog won’t bite unless forced to. A well trained dog also seems to know right from wrong and appears to be ashamed about mis-behaving.

A mother bitten when her loving baby has discovered his choppers usually reacts with a yelp as well immediately stopping the rewarding flow of milk.

Timing is everything.  Much of the advice offered today by those I call the Soft Love parent advisors works well once the basic roles have been learned and the child feels unhappy with herself, if she hurts another or does something she considers wrong.  The experts call that “internalization of conscience.”  Almost all kids develop a conscience.

According to Jerome Kagan, a theorist I respect, shame develops naturally at around two years.  That is the time a younger sibling can mess in an older sibling’s possessions.  The presence of shame keeps the older child from committing the sin of Cain. So shame is a useful emotion and develops on its own, although parents and others can make it worse.  AND parents can inhibit. An abused child knows more hurt, anger, and resentment than shame.  Most of the parenting advice by professionals deals with children who have been abused or who have a brain based problem.   What works for them is not helpful for kids who are not abused and who have a reasonably okay brain.

Now here is one complicating factor.  The content of a conscience depends on what the parents have taught and parents mostly teach what their culture teaches.   This means some girls will be ashamed if they dress immodestly; some boys will be ashamed of being “soft” or kind; some will be kind to animals,  some  will not.  The more parental values are lined up with cultural values, the easier it is to teach those values to children.

Here is complicating factor number two.  Come the teen years, if living in a culture where lots of view points are accepted, adolescents will test the limits of parental teaching.  Moreover, if in a group of other teens, parental values are less important than those of the peer group.  This is why many religious groups want their young to be with those of like values.


Here are my ten tips for dealing properly with issues involving shame.

  1. Know the rules that matter: respect self, respect other living things, respect property, obey the law. Concentrate on teaching these rules.
  2. Babies are not subject to these rules until they become mobile. Then parents must supervise children, prevent or stop behaviors that violate the rules while explaining the rules in no more than four words.  In time the rules will be come embedded.
  3. Adults need to intervene when kids of any age are fighting. The only reason not to intervene is if fear you might get hurt, then get help.  Not intervening lets the strongest, most aggressive kid win.  Not good for him, not good for the kid he beats. Not good for society.
  4. Do not actively shame, but show disappointment when child misbehaves.
  5. Time out is the most effective teaching tool for stopping unacceptable behavior once a child can talk.  Super Nanny does the best job of teaching time out  Thomas Phelon’s One, Two, Three Magic is a useful addition.  One of my grands at two and half became far more tractable combining time out with Phelon’s approach.
  6. Around the time the child is reading ready, timing out to think things over will still be useful, but a Let’s Make a Deal approach using rewards for good behavior including completion of chores. Renegotiating privileges and an allow are the negotiating materials. Punishment is failure to get the reward.
  7. As the child moves toward the teen years, start emphasizing that life is learning, mistakes are always a part of life, and need to be mined for lessons. Also emphasize that everyone has been given talents and trials.  Part of their task for the next few years will be to learn to deal with trials and find their talents. You are there to help them.  This is also the time to share your personal mission and if you have not developed a family mission there is no time like the present time.
  8. Devise some sort of transition rite into adulthood.  Many religions acknowledge the early teens as the time a child confirms their faith. Some cultures have sweet sixteen parties and some have initiation rites that test manhood or introduce adolescents to adult sex. Getting your driver’s licence is a common one in many of today’s culture.  Such rites are an opportunity to let your child try his or her wings with the safety net of your home and love there to catch them if they fall. Stop being a hovering parent if that is your style.  Emphasize the need to earn their way as will be expected in real life.
  9. With any major problems that occur during the teen years, parents can introduce a bit of shame by using the dreaded “I’m disappointed in your behavior.” I remember cringing the few times my father had to say those words to me.” Always emphasize that the behavior is what is shameful, not the child.
  10. Strengthen your own emotional fitness skills and teach them to your child. Click here for  to learn the 12 Daily Emotional Fitness Training Exercises.  The exercises are easy to practice, can be taught to your kids, and  strengthen everyone.

The current psycho babble faults abandoning parents for creating shame.  This is the stance of a those who base their helping on theory called Object Relations.  It is a theory therapy patients groove on as it lays blame on parents.  We all have an inner child who know how it feels like you are being abandoned if a parent chastises you.  It is a theory I hate.  Not only does it blame parents, it interferes with teaching right from wrong.  So when you hear the words “abandoning” know that they are over used and abuse good enough parents.  Shame on those theorists.


Be kind to  me,  Help me share my knowledge. If you found this information helpful, like the post or share it.  You will be helping me stay strong and maybe help some others as well.

Good luck and stay strong, I work at it all the time.


IMAGE BY: All Things D.

3 responses to “IS SHAME PURSUING YOU?

  1. You wise words are just what I needed to hear as I deal with an 8 year old and a 4 year old!

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