Shame on You
What are you thinking? Havent we talked
about this before?
My seven-year-old son looked down at the food
that had just spilled on the kitchen floor.
He stood statue-still, as children often do
after an accident. The words and tone Id used
were having their impact. He braced himself to
fight the tears, and prepared to clean things
And when I thought about it later, I realized
the worst moment wasnt the food hitting the
floor. The worst moment was seeing his face hiding
the shame and anguish he was feeling. It was in
knowing Id been responsible for helping him
shove down big feelings too painful to
The truth was difficult.
I was teaching my son to feel shame.
How does all of this happen? How is it that our
parenting brings out the worst in
The dynamics of shame are fairly simple. They
are often at the heart of toxic relations between
parents and children. When we feel unable to change
the behavior of our children, we may have a rush of
feelings that include frustration, humiliation, and
anger. Our own sense of being defective may
accompany the sense of shame, and may be related to
our history as a child.
As children, there were times when we felt
misunderstood and mistreated. The feelings of shame
that were generated from those times produced
defense mechanisms that protected us from having to
experience those painful moments again.
When we become parents, we are constantly
reminded of past shame-filled experiences in our
interactions with our children. The shame comes
rushing back in an avalanche of feelings and
When were in our own shame,
everything is distorted. When our children make
mistakes, theyre our mistakes. When they
appear defective, we feel defective. We become
overly concerned about other peoples
opinions, and about whats right and
And in this avalanche of shame, we lose sight of
the most important thing of allthe needs of
Here are some steps to limit or avoid the impact
of shame on your family:
- Look at your own history of shame, and how
its triggered by your children. Try to
find the irrational thoughts and messages that
are getting you into trouble. Get to know these
triggers well, and be prepared for them.
- Get to know your childs reaction to
shame, and how quickly they can reconnect with
you after a shaming episode. Never forget that
your child wants to be in a positive, loving
relationship with you. The sooner you can
reconnect after a shaming episode, the
- Tell your children that shaming messages
happen, and that most parents (and most kids)
say irrational things and act in irrational ways
at times. This will help them to process
whats happened to them.
- Be the first one to initiate better feelings
between you and your child after a shaming
episode. If it takes awhile for your child to
recover, be patient with the process, but
dont stop trying to reconnect.
- Dont beat yourself up after you shame
your child. This only gets you caught up in the
same cycle of shame that you unleashed on your
child. Practice the art of being kind and gentle
My son finished cleaning up the food, and sat
back down at the table with a long look on his
face. He didnt look ready to reconnect with
his Dad anytime soon.
Thanks for cleaning up, buddy. If
youre done eating, you can wrestle this big,
mean daddy to the ground in the family
After shaking his head, a corner of his mouth
curled up. Seconds later, we were doing battle on
the family room floor.
This shaming episode was over, and the recovery
was rapid. But the expression of shame does a great
deal of damage to our kids, and its ready to
rush forward in a heartbeat.
Learning more about your own legacy of shame can
be the first step towards lessening the frequency
of these unconscious reactions. All it takes is a
willingness to visit a difficult part of your past,
and a determination to leave a better legacy for
your own family.
We didnt deserve shame when we were
Our kids dont, either.
© 2008 Mark
Other Father Issues,
* * *
To this day I can remember my father's
voice, singing over me in the stillness of the
night. - Carl G. Jung
a Masters degree in counseling psychology and has
been a counselor, business consultant, sports
counselor, and a certified life and business coach.
He has worked with individuals, teams, and
businesses to improve their performance for over 20
years. Prior to life and business coaching Mark was
a world-ranked professional tennis player and has
coached other world-ranked athletes. He has helped
hundreds of individuals to implement his coaching
techniques. Mark specializes in coaching men to
balance their lives and to improve the important
relationships in their lives. He is the author of
the popular e-books, 25
Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent
Your Wife in 30 Days or Less (And Improve Yourself
at the Same Time
Mark is also the publisher of the Dads
Dont Fix your Kids ezine for fathers.
To sign up, go to www.markbrandenburg.com
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