Our kids’ behaviours and attitudes can really bring out the worst in us and make us do and say things which upon reflection we think, ‘Wow! That wasn’t my finest hour, I wish I could take that back!’ And I am sure we have all been there where we have (unintentionally) shamed, blamed or criticised our child and later felt ashamed ourselves!
This blog will help you to understand shame and learn how we can replace it with other (better) parenting tools.
Shaming can cause long lasting damage to a child in a number of ways:
- Crushes self-esteem: shaming operates by giving children a negative image about themselves – rather than about the impact of their behaviour.
- We might stop them from saying how they really feel: if they are afraid they will be ridiculed and they hold in inside them self!
- Damages the future relationships: if they fear our negative reaction this can cause damage to other emotional relationships they come across or develop in future. They can lose respect for us, and over time might not want to spend time with us and distance themselves from us.
- We encourage them to lie: if they are afraid to tell us the truth i.e. that they didn’t get ok grades etc.
- We feel bad too: it crushes our self-esteem and parenting confidence because we know that we haven’t behaved well!
- But most of all we become a bad role model for how to deal with people’s emotions that we don’t like or agree with. Imagine this scenario: your child’s friend tells them that they are scared of the dark. And your child’s response is, ’that’s stupid, you are being very silly!’ Would you not rather your child showed empathy and understanding instead?
There are some psychologists that say that shaming and belittling a child is actually a form of abuse. It might not leave physical bruises but over time will leave psychological and emotional scars on the child. But also on us because we might look back when they have grown up and think, ‘I was really not a good parent, I regret that, but now it is too late’.
So why do we shame and belittle our kids?
I asked my grown up kids, ‘Why do you think some parents shame or belittle their kids?’ and sorry parents, here was the reply: ‘Probably because their parenting skills suck!’
My first reaction was that it was a bit harsh, but there is some truth in it.
Often it is because parents don’t know how to correct their kids without being insulting or belittling them. Maybe it is because they feel a ‘loss of control’ and just don’t know about alternative methods that would be more effective.
Another reason is related to how parents feel about themselves. Some parents might judge themselves harshly, have low parenting confidence or have simply gotten into the habit of judging others harshly too.
Well the good news is that how we choose to respond to our child’s emotions, reactions and feelings (no matter if we don’t like them or disagree) can have a huge effect on how a child feels about themselves and also how they interact socially. And how we deal with them now has a huge bearing on their ability to develop healthy relationships later in life.
We can turn it around by using the opposites of shame: Dignity, Respect and Empathy.
First and foremost: Make the commitment to never shame a child. Treat children like you want to be treated.
There are many forms of shame that we need to be aware of and there is always a better alternative:
- Not letting them do things for themselves: I know that sometimes we are in a rush to get out the door or get them to bed etc. and it is so much easier to do things ourselves than let them do it or expect or ask them to do it. It is quicker and involves less battles by doing it for them and making decisions for them, and it’s less likely to slow down the daily routine. But here is the thing, when we do things for them that they really should (and can) do themselves we undermine them. Also, we rob them of amazing opportunities to become more independent. Basically by doing more for them we make them feel less through our actions, words and tone of voice.
Instead: sit down and have a chat about what they can do and your expectations going forward. Make it into something positive, ‘I am sorry that I have been doing everything for you but I am just so used to it! I know you are capable of so much more than I let you do. So let’s make a plan about what you will do i.e. in the morning, afternoon, evening etc.
Furthermore, allow them to problem solve without fixing things for them when life gets a bit bumpy. CLICK here to read ‘How to support our kids problem solve’.
- Judging our child’s choices: our kids are not fully mature and will say and do things that we don’t like or agree with but that does not mean we have to say, ‘I can’t believe you just did that’, ‘I am surprised that you chose that’, ‘I don’t understand that you chose Art over French’, ‘What on earth where you thinking when you did/said that?!’
Instead: try to listen to what they say and understand where they are coming from. Listening and understanding is not the same as agreeing – we all have the right to be listened to and heard. Again we are back at problem solving, support them to think through why what they did and said might not be the best solution. Maybe they simply need to learn from their experiences, remember there are no failures, only success and learning. CLICK here to read more about ‘how to raise resilient kids by allowing them to fail’.
- Public disciplining: public humiliation is horrible and can create deep and lasting scars for the child. If we put our child on time out in public or yell at them in the supermarket it can be a devastating experience for the child. Also when we are with family and friends and we belittle the child, i.e. table manners, speaking properly etc. I know we don’t want others to think that we are not doing anything about our child’s behaviour or lack of manners but the place to discipline your child is not in public. I was in a restaurant the other day and I heard a dad telling his son aged around age 10 (in a loud, angry tone), ‘Has no one thought you to eat properly with a knife and fork!’ The boy just looked down at his plate and I could feel his pain and embarrassment!
Instead: have a chat before you go out to plan, prepare and agree. Tell the child what your expectations are of their behaviour and manners. Agree with them on what they can and can’t have if need be. Agree on what table manners look like and work on the at home in a positive way etc. Also, you can agree to a private signal that the child is not keeping in line with the agreement, i.e. a gentle tap of the shoulder, a wink etc. If necessary you can also tell your child what the consequences will be IF they break the agreement i.e. when you are back at home you will remove privileges: e.g. less TV time, no XBox today, not going on that playdate next week etc.
- Telling them to STOP feeling or what to feel instead Stop feeling sad it will get better. There is no need to cry, it was not that bad. Or, calm down, it is not that big a deal! There is no need to be angry – drop it.
Instead: Teach them to be non-judgmental: everyone has a right to be heard and have their opinion even though you don’t like it or agree. Come from a place of listening, understanding and accepting.
- I can hear that you don’t like school for the moment because it is hard, I get it.
- I can hear that you’re angry at me right now because you can’t have a mobile, I get it.
- I can see you’re angry at your brother because XX and that’s
Focus on the behaviour not the child: instead of making a comment about them and who they are (are you stupid or what?), talk about what they have done, not done or said. Example: if a child refuses to do chores say, ‘ I am confused about why the chores are not done as agreed – talk me through it’. Instead of, ‘You are so lazy, you never listen – you will never be able to live on your own!’ etc
Keep this in mind: listening, understanding and accepting how they feel is NOT the same as agreeing with them.
- Criticise: You eat like a pig. You stink go and have a shower. How can you live in a dump like this? You are just being lazy. Did you not hear me the first time – are you deaf? How stupid was that?
Instead: Expand their emotional vocabulary: instead of pointing fingers at them and calling them names, try to express how YOU feel. This will help expand their emotional vocabulary and later be able to verbalise how they feel in a more mature way. Example: ‘When you refuse to do the chores we agreed I feel angry, but also frustrated because I don’t understand what went wrong. And also I know you can do much better than that.’ Or: ‘When you don’t try your best in school I get sad because I know you can do it. Or: ‘I know that you find maths hard but you have done well before so I feel frustrated when you don’t at least try.’
- Use humour or laugh AT them: Wow, I can see you’ve REALLY cleaned up your room! (when it is still messy). I am sure your get a lor of friend behaving like that etc.
Instead: Translate their words, behaviour or emotions: when they say things that get you upset and end in shaming try instead to translate their feelings. Examples: if they say they hate you. Say ‘I can hear you don’t like me very much right now’ or ‘I can see you are very upset and angry at me right now because xx’. Or: I know you are very annoyed at your brother for taking your toy – I understand that’. Or ‘I get it that it so no fun to tidy to run and you rather want to play games…’
As a parent of three myself I know how hard this can be to do in the moment when emotions are high on both sides, but by becoming aware of situations where we might end up reverting to shame and blame we can start to change things for the better. By practicing some of the alternatives above we have a great opportunity to role model healthy and mature emotional responses to difficult situations. We will feel better about ourselves and so will our children.
Good luck, Mette Theilmann