Should Kids feel shame?

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Providing Choice

As parents, we try to protect our children against bad experiences, bad feelings, and bad thoughts. Bad everything. This in hopes that our child embraces the goodness within themselves and uses that as ammunition to navigate through the inevitable challenges he /she will face in the years to come. However, part of the parenting responsibility is to provide the element of choice to our children. To be clear, providing choice may include allowing our children to intentionally taste both “good and bad” in order to teach them the consequences of making bad choices.

When a child feels badly about something that they’ve done, should a parent be quick to rescue them from the feeling of shame?  Oxford defines shame as “A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.  In laments terms, shame is the gut sinking feeling of recognizing you’ve done something wrong and that you are flawed.  Should children be denied/sheltered   from this painful feeling when they make bad choices?

Is shame a normal and healthy feeling?

Shame can be very positive because it’s an emotion that tells us we’ve hurt someone, or violated a boundary that compromises the integrity of ourselves or somebody else. Shame is the revelation onto yourself that “all is not well”.  Without the capacity to feel shame, we can delve into extremely dangerous territories in our behaviors, thoughts, relationships –and feel no remorse, empathy, guilt or disappointment. Though considered under the umbrella of negative emotions- shame is our own internal voice that speaks to us when we violate our conscience or morals. For example, you would want your child to feel shame if they were caught stealing a friend’s toy at school.  They’ve done a bad thing- and should feel bad about it. They ARE NOT bad- but they should FEEL bad about what they’ve done. Being mindful of our shame allows us to ponder on who we want to be-and what we want to represent.  If feelings of shame provoke us to make things right with those we’ve offended or to seek help for ourselves, it’s an extremely useful emotion in spite of how bad It feels. Feeling vulnerable, which shame makes us feel is the gateway to transparency, genuineness and humanness? SO yes!  Shame is normal and can be very healthy but shame can also be very unhealthy and toxic

 What is Toxic Shame?

Toxic Shame is a neurotic, irrational feeling of worthlessness, humiliation, self-loathing and paralyzing feeling that has been inflicted onto an individual through repeated, traumatic experiences often, but not always, rooted in childhood. It’s different from the shame described above because it lingers beyond the situation in which the child behaved badly. Instead, toxic shame says “You ARE bad”, not that you did a bad thing.   FEELING shame and BEING ashamed are fundamentally two different experiences. The beliefs behind toxic shame include thoughts like;

  • “I am Bad”
  •  “I am ugly”
  •   I am selfish”
  •   “I hate myself”
  • “I am a bad person”
  •  I am unlovable
  •  “I don’t matter”
  • “I shouldn’t have been born
  •  “I’m defective

As you notice there’s a lot of “I statements” in the mind of this child. Regardless of who birthed these initial messages, at some point, the child takes the personal responsibility of now assaulting themselves.

What parents can do

The home life of a child is often the birthplace of toxic shame.   Parents can do a lot to help children who are prone to toxic shame is by;

  • Being mindful of when children feel bad as a result of something they’ve said or done.
  • Accepting them for who they are and not comparing them to others.
  • Not projecting their own shame on their children
  • Explaining the why’s of consequences
  • Being consistent with discipline in spite of who’s around and who’s not
  • Correcting rather than punishing
  • Being fair and allowing consequences to match offense in terms of severity
  • Allow children to know consequences a head of time.

If you believe your child struggles with shame and can benefit from meeting with a therapist, give us a call at 866-503-7454 or email us

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