Good enough parents cringe at the thought their child might feel the soul searing heat of shame. But shame cannot be stopped and serves useful purposes.
Shame is a signal we are about to do the unforgivable. Useful shame does that. Sadly most shame, as depicted in the cartoon above, is useless shame. Among the most useless shame has to do with past events, particularly those from our childhood. However, parents are powerless to prevent children from feeling shame. Why?
Nature, or your version of the creator, blessed us with shame to keep us from doing the unforgivable. Jerome Kagan, top researcher into how children grow, claims shame keeps us from the sin of Cain. He notes that the scorching flames of shame develop in children around the age of two. That is when younger siblings begin messing with their older siblings’ toys and possessions, creating in older siblings the desire to maim and murder.
Fortunately, most older siblings might torture the smaller ones a bit, but few maim and murder. Why? Because most parents do a good job of teaching caring and kindness and how to handle angry feelings.
A baby just feels. Unhappy about something and the baby lets you know it. Slowly and surely, however, parents teach children to manage negative feelings.
That is what I am talking about when I talk about Emotional Intelligence or Emotional Fitness. Properly managed feelings involve knowing what you are feeling, being able to think about what to do so you act wisely. When it comes to managing shame, here is a bit of advice.
Parenting ADVICE for defeating useless shame
Tip one: Know what matters and what behaviors shame should stop. Mainly that involves hurting other living creatures.
Tip two: Stop unacceptable behaviors and use a bit of anger when doing so. Too much parenting advice has made punishment, getting angry, or creating shame in children the equivalent of abuse. Wrong. Proper punishments strengthen self esteem; anger is a warning and properly handled parental anger teaches children important life skills.
Tip three: Be absolutely clear what the child did that was shameful and make certain the child knows what she did that was so wrong.
Tip four: Separate the behavior from the child. The behavior is unacceptable; the child is not.
Tip five: Restore the child’s sense of okayness and being loved. Keep age and stage in mind.
When dealing with unacceptable behaviors in the young, the following usually works: “What you did was very bad. However, you are young and needed me to tell you not to do that. I know you want to do what is right. My love goes on.”
With pre-teens and teens try this: “I was shocked and saddened by what you did. I know in your heart you know better. I guess something got in the way of your better self. How can I help you keep that from happening again? I love you and want the best for you.”
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Advice always does. More tips about preventing useless shame coming up.
Remembering what matters is key to staying strong. Sharing, caring, and working to do as much good while doing as little harm as possible matter most. Build your life around these and help your children do the same.
For all you do, thank you.
Related article of interest
Shame and Children Links