Shame is good, sometimes

All shame is considered toxic by most parent advisers.  Moreover, when an adult is dealing with shame,  parents are blamed. Not true.

Shamed by dropping a lunch box.

You or a child doing something really bad? Shame is designed to get you back in line.


“Why are you drinking? demanded the little prince.
“So that I may forget,” replied the tippler.
“Forget what?” inquired the little prince, who was already sorry for him.
“Forget that I am ashamed,” the tippler confessed, hanging his head.
“Ashamed of what?” insisted the little prince, who wanted to help him.
“Ashamed of drinking!”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Most advice gurus blame parents for creating shame.   However, leading Harvard researcher Jerome Kagan, views shame as nature’s way of keeping us from doing the unthinkable.

Kagan points out that shame develops when a child has become powerful enough to kill a troublesome younger sibling.  For the very young child,  a strong painful emotion needs to come into play to prevent the Sin of Cain. Shame develops naturally and is nature’s teaching tool.

Parents need to spend less time trying to avoid a child’s feeling ashamed and more time teaching the value of shame as a warning to think about what matters. Moments of shame should be teachable moments.

Shame is only a useful  emotion only when it  keeps a child  from doing the unthinkable.  Part of every parent’s job is to teach right from wrong. Shame opens the door on teaching what is unacceptable behaviors.


Tip one:  Be alert to unthinkable behavior in your pre-schooler. Doing so is easy –  no hurting people or animals.  That is what nature intended shame to stop.

Tip two:  Come down hard enough so the child gets the point this is not acceptable. A loud “No hurting” or “No hitting.” If the unacceptable behavior continues a time out is in order.   

Tip three:  When the behavior has stopped and the child has served his time out, if that was necessary, repeat with a soft voice “Hurting others is bad. I know you want to be good, and it is my job to help you.” End that little lecture with a hug.

Tip four:  Teach the child to rate hurtful behaviors.  Doing so A five point rating scale is a useful tool teaching this.  Physical hurt = five;  bullying and emotional hurt = four;  accidental hurts =  three;  teasing that goes a bit to far = two; and one = a tiny, tiny hurt.

A similar scale helps children  cope with all  hurts.  Five = life threatening; four = needing medical attention; three = a crying hurt;  two = a big ouch; and one =  a “Suck it up buttercup ” hurt.

Tip five:  Teach the child self defense skills.  Just as I think all children should be taught to swim; I think all children should need to learn basic self-defense skills.  I advocate for karate that emphasizes avoiding conflict when possible but know how to stay safe when trouble cannot be avoided.  Seek out a Peace Dojo and take lessons as a family.

This post was inspired by both a  Word Press  Daily Prompt: Daily Prompt: Isn’t Your Face Red  When was the last time you were embarrassed? How do you react to embarrassment? 

Finally, Thank you for all you do. I am particularly grateful to those who practice internet kindness by liking, rating, commenting, or sharing my posts.


This week’s FREE Poster Coach

Self-soothing skills are important tools for combatting shame. The OMM or One Meditate Mediation is easy to learn and once learned effective in calming stress and that includes the stress of unwanted shame.  Learn it for yourself, but start teaching it to your children as soon as they can blow bubbles and sip water through a straw.

Go to the EFTI store to claim free copy of this or any of our other free Poster Coach.  They are designed to be printed up in color on card stock and posted where they will remind you what matters or to practice an Emotional fitness skill.

Following the Golden Rule matters most.



6 responses to “Shame is good, sometimes

  1. Pingback: Daily Prompt: Isn’t Your Face Red? | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss

  2. Pingback: Embarrassed! | A mom's blog

  3. Great ideas. Honestly, I never really think about shame, interesting to bring it up.

  4. Pingback: of shame | Anawnimiss

  5. Pingback: Daily Prompt: Red | The Wandering Poet

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