Shame is that sinking feeling, which may be accompanied by sadness, fear, anger or disgust, along with a sense of your own unworthiness and lack of worth in the eyes of others. Shame is often accompanied by a tendency to behave in a submissive way, that is, a shamed person is likely to try to appease others, to fall into line with their expectations and to try to avoid any further ‘attacks’. Because a shamed child is likely to act in a submissive way, parents may find that shaming their child can effectively eliminate unwanted behaviours. However, the use of shame as a parenting strategy is definitely not recommended. Repeated experiences of shame may predispose your child to a host of difficulties later in life including depression, anxiety and relationship problems. Your child may internalise the shame, attacking themselves with self-criticism and judgement throughout their life.
So how can you parent shame-free?
- Firstly, the obvious: don’t try to induce shame in your child. Don’t try to change your child’s behaviour by embarrassing them, calling their worth into question, or talking about what other people might think.
- Go light on criticism. Watch yourself for critical comments. Sure, sometimes parents do need to correct our children’s behaviour. But make sure your speech is not littered with criticism. Not everything needs to be corrected!
- When correcting, focus on the behaviour not the child. Don’t make sweeping judgements on what kind of person your child is (‘lazy’ or ‘mean’) just focus on the behaviour that you’d like to change.
- Parent with wide-open acceptance of your child just as he or she is. Choose to love your child unconditionally.
- Parent with compassion. Notice your child’s perspective and how your child is feeling. Act to reduce his or her suffering.
- Honour your child’s vulnerability. It takes tremendous courage to be vulnerable. Respect that courage.
- Find an open, compassionate space for your own feelings of shame. When shame comes up for you too, hold that lightly. Give yourself the same accepting, loving and compassionate care that you give to your child.
- If you notice that you’ve accidentally shamed your child then apologise and let your unconditional love show.
Apply it to your life: Have you ever experienced the toxic effects of shame? How do you parent shame-free?
Gilbert, P. (2011) Shame in Psychotherapy and the role of compassion focused therapy. In Dearing, R.L. & Tangney, J.P. (Ed). Shame in the therapy hour (pp325-254). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
Gilbert, P. (2014) The origins and nature of compassion focused therapy. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53, 6-41.
Brown, Brene (2013) Daring Greatly. New York: Portfoilo.