• Parenting with Hope

Shame vs Guilt - Children

This month’s video is Shame Versus Guilt. We’re talking about how guilt is described as “I have done something bad” while shame is the belief that “I am bad.” We discuss how shame doesn’t typically lead to change, while guilt recognizes offence and the desire to rectify that offence.

It is good to know the difference between shame and guilt because both affect the way we parent. In this email, I’ll address the issue of shaming.

Sometimes parents connect shaming and parenting with things like spanking, public scolding, or another discipline. However, there are other ways parents shame their children, and they are often subtle. This can include demeaning your child, or even rolling your eyes at your son or daughter after they have done something of which you don’t approve.

Words like “Why are you acting like a two-year-old?” spoken to a child, especially in front of others, are also a form of shaming. Not only is this parenting pointless, ineffective, and hurtful, it can be terribly destructive. Seeking to change a child’s behaviour by making him or her feel shame makes a child feel small and insignificant.

When eight-year-old Jane accidentally hit her sister in the head with her doll from swinging it around her head like a lasso, her mother had had enough. “What are you thinking? Did you think you wouldn’t eventually hit someone when you play with the doll like that?” Jane burst out into tears, ran to her room, and rolled up in a ball on her bed. Jane’s mother communicated to Jane that she had done something idiotic, whether that was her intent or not.

Though Jane shouldn’t have been swinging her doll around, it’s important to remember that there is a difference between shaming and disciplining. Discipline is about correcting and guiding a child toward more appropriate behaviour. A candid discussion about the reasons why we don’t swing toys over our heads, especially around younger children, followed by helping the child understand other ways to express feelings or needs, is more in order.

We hope this article will help you consider times you may be shaming your child without realising it. We hope you benefit from the tips and tools offered both in the video and in the article.

Shaming a child as discipline results in a child who feels bad about him or herself.

However, guilting a child is just as destructive. Guilt is a tool adults use to make others feel bad, and unfortunately, too often use as a parenting tactic. Guilt parenting uses psychological means to shape a child’s behaviour. A few examples of guilt parenting might include:

• I’m so ashamed of your behaviour at Aunt Sue’s last night.

• You should thank me for going to work every day to provide food for the family.

As with shame, most kids can’t differentiate between understanding they did a bad thing, versus believing they are a bad person.

Many psychologists believe using guilt to prod a child into acting how you want them to, or feeling bad about something that already happened, increases the possibility of the child becoming an anxious thinker. Guilt trips might appear to be successful, but they are not benign; they not only produce strong feelings of guilt but also feelings of resentment toward the one trying to manipulate.

And guilt doesn’t fix the problem!

American psychoanalyst Jody Davies often says parents will deal with feelings too painful to hold onto by passing them on to someone else. She calls this a “hot potato” feeling. When we can’t “give” the feeling away, we get angry at whoever is near and seems to be making us feel it. Unfortunately, it is often our children.

Examine your feelings and ask yourself if you have some unrecognized or unresolved feelings of guilt that might be spilling over into how you parent your child. Simply being aware of this possibility may help guard you against guilting your child.

The Bible says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Satan is the master of making us feel guilty, but in Christ, we are free. Why then would we want to place our children under such a heavy yolk?

Honored to walk alongside you!


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