The Impact of Shame on Our Children

Shame is painful. When we are faced with shame, we don’t feel good enough. We feel like we are unworthy, unloved, and disconnected. We feel bad about needing or wanting something as though the feeling defines us. Our brain reacts in a way that it thinks we are bad or unworthy instead of the situation being bad or uncomfortable.

For our children it is even more detrimental. It makes them feel unloved, unwanted, helpless, hopeless, and lonely. They see themselves as bad, stupid, unfit, and sometimes useless. They might think that they are not good at anything and have a negative self view. 

Shaming our Children…

There are a few problems that can occur when it comes to shaming our children. Shame does not help a child build empathy, resilience, self-worth, esteem, or confidence, which is an important part in the building of emotional intelligence and healthy relationships. These emotional skills are a critical part of a healthy development. They ensure a child feels secure, safe, loved, able, and willing to attain their goals. When shame comes into the picture and it is not addressed, it spreads like wildfire, it mutates, and it destroys all the good emotional skills built up. Shame isolates children and they feel even more a need to self-protect. It is so hard to feel for others when their own needs are not being met.

Shamed children can’t feel empathy, they are too busy building their army to protect themselves from shame. The challenge is empathy is so critical and underutilized this day and age. Empathy helps our children feel connected and see outside of their perspective. They get to feel what another child feels and relate to them.

Shame can also fuel lying and perfectionism. Children lie to protect themselves and hide behind perfectionism to stay safe as they further isolate and disconnect. We, as parents and educators, can create a space where the child feels that they can come to us for anything, and tell us when they feel bad for something that they have done. We can create a space for them to express their feelings without judgment, criticism, or dismissal. We can stop trying to be Inspector Gadget or MacGyver and try to fix everything. We are actually doing more damage than good. All we need to do is listen, put our phones done, and be with our children.

Listening is the first step to open communicate and dissipate shame…

By doing this , it will open communication between us and our children. The challenge is for us to be more aware of our words, tonality, and intentions.  So how can stop shaming our children? It takes a lot of self-awareness and self-compassion to start identifying the things we say and do to our kids. It also takes a lot of self-reflection to be able to trace back the why behind our behaviors. It is all about baby steps. So we put together some ideas to help as we pay more attention to the way we discipline our children.

Strategies to be Shame Stoppers

Instead of ridiculing our children in a way that may seem harmless, we can try empathizing with them first.

Instead of saying, “ You lost it again? Ugh, you lose everything, all the time, do you even know how much this cost me. I work so hard to provide you with stuff that I never had. You are so spoiled!”

Try this: 

Stay calm, take a deep breath and say, “ You’ve lost your iPad? Oh man, well it happens, I lose my phone all the time. Let’s look for it and maybe we can create a place where it can have a special place to go after you use it, that way it won’t get lost anymore!”

Keeping open constant communication with our children can help prevent shame as well.

If we create a sense of open communication, our children are more than likely to tell us when they feel guilty, embarrassed, ashamed, lonely, or depressed. They might be more open about something they have done or their mistakes. This way they are honest with us and we can help work through this issue, together. It can also lead the child into learning how to admit and correct mistakes they have made without us hovering.

Most importantly modify our own behavior so it reflects onto our children.

Children are sponges, they see and hear more than we can possibly realize. When they watch us do something or react in a certain way, especially at a young age, they believe this is how we are supposed to act in this situation. So if we are constantly telling ourselves that we are fat, stupid, broke, undeserving of that raise, unloveable, or broken, what is the message we are sending to our children?

It’s not always easy to be the best role model, but if we can be more aware of our actions, our tone, and what we say in front of our children, it can make a big difference in their behavior. We wish you the best and hope that some of these small strategies and actions you can take will help create a positive environment for you and your family. It is a constant process and it is hard work. We are all in this together!

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Sending you lots of love this week,
Alex and Kortney
Bulldog Team

Talking to your Kids about Drama and Bullying