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All About Shame

What is it?

According to Brene Brown, shame is that intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. For children shame is so painful because it is inextricably linked to their hard wired need to be loved. As parents, it can feel natural to think that shame might motivate a child and it can sneak in to how we speak to them. But beware. Guilt is useful: "Ugh, I feel badly that I didn't study and got a C; I'm going to study harder next time." Shame is insidious: "I got a C. I am no good. No wonder my parents don't love me." Start building resistance to shame today.

How to Address It?

The antidote to shame is empathy. Think of replacing “Well, at least…” or “If you had just…” or “Don’t worry…”, with some variation of “I know what it’s like, that must really hurt, or you’re not alone”.

Your Script in Action

Child: I hate online learning - it's too hard and I can't do well on tests.


Parent: “Well, if you had studied a bit harder instead of playing video games, you would have done better.”


Parent: “I know what you mean. I feel so frustrated by doing all my work virtually. It’s not the same, is it? If you could change one thing about the online classes, what would it be?”

(You still have to deal with the video game problem. But we can change that behavior without shaming. Empathy first.)


Look for one opportunity today to use a variation of "I know how you feel". Just one. And notice how it makes YOU feel or watch your child's face. Set the bar low and the habit will form faster because you’re setting yourself up to feel successful, and that’s the feeling that wires in the habit.


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