Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The one where I talk about Shaming..

Actually, I have asked a wonderful gentle mom and fellow blogger, peaceondarknights, to do a guest post for me.  Shaming is something I try  my hardest to avoid while raising my boys.    And wether it comes from me, their father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends or strangers, it all has the same effect.

Shame is an insidious thing.  It can be so subtle and be conveyed by such culturally acceptable phrases, that we might not even realize we are doing it or the message it is sending to our children.   Some parents who would never dream of spanking, still find shaming to be a perfectly acceptable way to show their displeasure or get a point across to their kids.  Some parents, like myself, recognize shaming for the monster it is, but still occasionally spit out pat phrases of disgust rather than thinking through more uplifting and appropriate things to say.  

Here are a few phrases I see used, why I object to their use, and some alternative things to say:
Bad boy!  I usually see this directed at toddlers, doing normal toddler things.  Regardless of your opinion on the inherent goodness or lack thereof in humans as a whole, a 2 year old getting into the cookie jar or decorating the bathroom with toilet paper is not being *morally bad.*  Usually they are being inquisitive or exploring their environment.  They are little scientists, discovering their world and figuring out what will happen if they drop their food on the floor.  Does it make a sound?  How fast does it go?  Does it splatter?
At any age, even disobedience or moral wrongs are not helped by the vague proclamation that the child is bad.  All it does is tell the child that their entire human worth is wrapped up in this one mistake.  If it is used frequently, it tells them that their worth is wrapped up in these series of mistakes that they just keep making no matter how hard they try.  Wait.... they make mistakes!  That makes them so fully..... human.  As an adult human, I certainly can relate to how awful I feel when someone berates me and how much better I respond when someone takes the time to gently show me a better way.    

Depending on the age of the child and the issue being addressed, some alternatives are to explain to the child the problem with what they are doing, express how you feel about what they did, redirect them to something more appropriate or work with them to brainstorm ways they can do what they want to do in a more acceptable way.  State clearly what you want them to do "Leave the cookies in the jar," rather than attacking their character.    

What on earth were you thinking?!  I find myself spitting this one out without thinking sometimes.  What I really mean is "I just found this mess and I'm shocked and frustrated!"  or "If you had thought this through/used your brain/ thought about how this would affect me you wouldn't have done it."  The first can be much better expressed by saying exactly what I mean and saying how I feel about the situation.  The second is demeaning.  It insinuates that the child is stupid or careless.  I am so glad that today when I closed my husband's online tv show he had loading when I only meant to close the page I was browsing, that he didn't insinuate I was being careless.  How often do we as adults do things that fail to take into account how someone else will feel about it, not out of maliciousness, but maybe because we simply don't know that they have a preference?  Children lack forethought and impulse control because that is the way God designed them to develop.  If those areas of their brains were mature, they wouldn't need parents.  No amount of trying to make them feel stupid, careless or bad is going to force their brains to develop faster.  What it can do is cause them to feel stupid, careless and bad for the rest of their lives. 

Again, the best way to express frustration, is simple to state your own feelings.  It is important to distinguish between feelings and judgments.  "I feel like you were being careless when you broke my necklace" isn't actually a feeling at all.  It's a judgement about what you think the other person was doing and thinking (or not thinking).  "I feel frustrated/sad/upset that you broke my necklace," lets the child know that their actions do affect other people.  When all they hear is your judgement, they will probably think you are attacking them and get defensive.  If they hear your feelings and are of an age where they have developed some empathy, they will be more inclined to respond appropriately.   A great book on this subject is Nonviolent Communication. 

Your brother always.... why can't you be more like him?  The comparison.  No two people are alike and if we were all the same, what a boring world it would be.  So telling one child to be more like the other, does not help him become a better person.  It hinders him from becoming the person HE is supposed to be.

Instead of comparing two children, imagine how you would respond if this child was the only one you knew.  How can you build this child up in his unique gifts and abilities?    

Shame, shame (complete with the finger motions).  This one does not even try to disguise itself as something other than what it is- shame.  It is blatantly telling the child that they should feel ashamed of what they have done and can even be done in a mocking way.  I think it is very important to distinguish between guilt and shame.  Guilt is internal and comes from our conscious or the Holy Spirit prodding us to do things differently.  Guilt is a natural, God-given feeling that arises when we do something wrong.  When experienced by an emotionally healthy person, it pushes them towards repentance and restitution.  It is the impetus for changing their behavior TO something better.  Shame, on the other hand, is external.  It is the voice of someone outside ourselves saying that we *should* feel bad, wrong, and dirty for what we have done.  It is embarrassment and fear of what someone else thinks and creates a desperation to get AWAY from the bad feelings, without any goal of where to go.  A child who hears a lot of messages of shame, blatant or subtle, can fail to learn to hear their own conscious and instead learn to use the approval or disapproval of others as their guide for what is right and wrong.     

Again, this only tells the child what not to do and that he should feel bad for doing it.  Imagine that you were just teleported to another planet.  You don't know their customs or their language and you have to figure everything out as you go.  Would it be helpful for them to look at you in disgust and shame you every time you made a mistake?  Or would you appreciate if someone took the time to show you their customs?  Kids don't want to do things that other people will be angry or sad about.  They want to figure out how to get along in this world and often even when they know intellectually, their impulse control and physical ability has not yet caught up to make it possible.  Show them how the world works, explain to them why, and work with them to find solutions to problems.    

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