The Implications of Shame in Parenting

Most parents I know are trying really hard to raise their children in the best way they know how.  Some parents have had a long legacy of shame in their past, and this legacy typically serves as a prime motivator which shows up in their parenting style–a parenting style that seems normal for them but which sometimes becomes a set of shame-based core beliefs within their relationships with their children.

How do we react when we hear negative comments about our children?

How do you react to a negative comment about your child?

It is a matter of fact that we parents are placed in positions where family, friends, teachers and neighbors may tell us about our children. Sometimes we hear the great compliments. Other times we hear things that upset us, and when we do, our private thoughts can go something like this: “Oh great, tell me what a lousy parent I really am!”

Isn’t it interesting how we personalize the negative feedback about our children, as if we are saying it to ourselves? But take this one step farther. It is, therefore, quite easy–with all that goes on with our children–for us as parents to feel ashamed because of what our children are doing.

Our shame, our legacy?

It is remarkable how deeply some parents are connected to their children’s behavior and how, as a result, have significant problems dealing with feelings from criticism given to their children.

Here are some examples:

  • When someone describes inappropriate behavior of your child
  • When your child doesn’t do well in school
  • When you are unable to adequately provide for your child
  • When you are not able to help with your child’s homework
  • When you are told your children are ungrateful, irresponsible, unfair towards others
  • When just about anyone tells you negative things about your child
  • When you feel inadequate and incompetent in disciplining or parenting your child

These are just a few of the types of comments parents receive, and for all of us, it is a very hard thing to process the comments without feeling a strong level of responsibility or shame, particularly when shame is a part of our legacy.

How should we evaluate our children?

How should we evaluate our child's behavior?

The first thing we need to remember is the nature of children. They are impulsive, egocentric and immature. Because of their nature, how can they possess (what I would call) a formula to make good decisions?

As adults, we make a significant mistake when we evaluate children based on their behavior alone. We need to look at the “whole child” with an expectation that the child is a normal child, prone to make impulsive choices and behave inappropriately on occasion. Thinking about our “normal, whole children” should become a rule or model for how we understand them.

Further, in labeling our children as “badly behaved,” we shame them, which usually sets up a cycle (to our dismay and confusion) causing more of the same inappropriate behavior, particularly if the children do not understand the consequences given them, and especially if we continue to punish them in this same way over and over.

What happens when we change the shame and blame label?

As our children seek an identity, do we label them?

Since children are immature and seeking an identity, they may assume because of a label placed on them, the very identities we do not wish them to embrace and then live them out. We see this legacy of labeling, shaming and inappropriate behavior occur all the time with some of the teenagers we work with at Lakeside.

I truly believe that we need to be extremely careful about these labels and shame-based tactics with our children.  There are real benefits in not using shame as the prime-motivator of our children, such as:

  • Children are less likely to be aggressive when angry or frustrated
  • Children are less likely to get into trouble at school over issues of aggression and disrespect
  • Children are freer to have genuine self-respect and value their own gifts and abilities
  • Parents are freer to relate to their children without transmitting shame-based messages
  • Parents are actively contributing and improving the quality life for their own children and others as well
  • Children are more likely to become good citizens of their community

I know as a parent it is hard to hear negative things about our children. But what we do not want to do is continue the blaming and shaming so it becomes a part of our child’s reputation and identity.

The benefits of not being shame-based are very healthy for our children and society. We need to support our parents as much as we can as they hold our precious children in their daily care.  And yes, it is a tough job!

More to come in my next post!

Thanks for reading today.  I hope it was helpful to you.

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Some information taken from Preventing Violence through Anger Management, 2006, Diane Wagenhals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *