Taking Shame and Blame Out of the Equation
Helping Children Make Right Choices
As a parent, I frequently get the opportunity to teach the difference between “right” and “wrong”, even though I often find this to be an elusive distinction since it can be a relative debate. This time was different. It took no teaching on my part, only listening.
I was washing my children’s clothes and pulled something out of my 6 year old son’s shorts pocket; it was a tiny little mouse with a long ribbon tail that I didn’t recognize. As I turned it over, I realized it was actually a button -- the cutest little button I’d ever seen. As we had just been to the fabric store 2 days before, I knew where it had come from, and unfortunately, knew we had not paid for it. I braced myself for the conversation on “stealing”.
When I pulled it out of my pocket at dinner, he began shifting in his seat, not sure what to say. As I began asking him questions, he jumped up and ran to his room crying. I followed him and asked him why he was crying since I merely asked him if he knew where it came from. I reminded him the importance of being completely honest. He told me that it fell off of the button card at the fabric store and he put it in his pocket because it was so cute, then he started to cry harder. I asked him why he was crying and his response was, “My heart said not to take it, but I didn’t listen. I should have listened to my heart.”
What a great lesson. He wasn’t upset because he might get punished, he wasn’t upset because he had to return it – he was upset because he didn’t honor his true self. He knew the right choice, but was tempted by the cute little mouse. He got the lesson without me going into shame, shame, shame. He understood stealing was wrong. He understood why he had to return it. I didn’t have to break his spirit for him to get the lesson. So many times we feel the need to break down our children so that they feel bad when they do something “wrong”. If they feel bad, they’ll learn the lesson, right? Unfortunately, through that process, they often learn the wrong lesson. They learn that they are bad, not the act itself. The act is merely a lesson, but if we put too much shame on top of it, it can get transferred into a belief by the child that they are bad because they stole something, or hit someone, or engaged in hurtful gossip. Once a child starts to believe that they are bad, the importance of self forgiveness can get lost. It’s important to understand when we make a mistake and it’s important to forgive ourselves for making that mistake. Mistakes are part of learning.
The conversation that followed with my son was that it was all okay. We are all learning and there are lots of opportunities for lessons that help us to grow. What did he learn? “To listen to my heart.” Perfect. That is the lesson.
Doreen Fisher is a musician, home educator, business owner and philanthropist. She lives in Dallas with her husband, their 2 incredibly intuitive children, Sammy the cat and Tibblett the bunny. firstname.lastname@example.org; www.parentinginawareness.com; www.rainbowoutsourcing.com; www.pientre.com