How to parent without shaming your kids
I’ve been reading Brené Brown’s book Dare to Lead over the last few weeks. Like all her books, it’s well worth your time. The section on shame is particularly helpful. And the way she distinguishes between guilt and shame is especially illuminating.
- guilt = I did something bad,
- shame = I am bad.
The thing about shame, according to Brené, is that that are, literally, no benefits. It’s a negative emotion that has zero upsides. The more we can eradicate shame from our lives, the healthier we’ll be.
Guilt is different. It’s still a negative emotion. But it’s a negative emotion that can have upsides. Guilt, if responded to well, opens up the door to change. It invites a change of behaviour.
Realising I did the wrong thing is a learning opportunity. Thinking I am bad, or naughty, or worthless completely disempowers me.
All this got me to thinking about how I parent. How can I make sure that, when dealing with the inerrant behaviour of my (mostly) wonderful girls, I respond in a way that induces guilt but not shame?
'You are always so naughty,’ is shame language.
'Why are you so unkind to your sister?’ is too.
I know, at their core, my girls are not naughty or unkind people. They may at times do or say something that is naughty or unkind, but that isn’t who they are. And I don’t want my language to ever create shame about who they truly are.
I wonder how many of us, now as adults, are still struggling to find our true self because it got buried at an early age through shame?
I don’t want that for my kids! And if my language can help ensure that bad behaviour is dealt with in ways that are never shame-inducing, that feels like it’ll be a big win.
One thing we try to do in our household, is speak about a specific action, or something that was said, and emphasise that that thing was wrong. Not they are wrong, or naughty, or bad. But the action wasn’t right. And we try to emphasise that the positive about who they are.
'You’re a kind person, Imogen. We know that. But what you said then wasn’t kind.’
It’s not always easy. And I know I don’t always get it right. But reading Brené Brown’s words was a good reminder to keep at it. It’s too important to be casual or flippant with our language.