Don’t Make It A Federal Case!
August 25, 2009 · Posted in Discipline, Education, Parenting · Permalink

images-1Appropriate doses of embarrassment or guilt in childhood are central to developing self-control and morality. Take the example of the 6 year old who slips a candy bar into her pocket while at the grocery store. Many kids will do this at some point during childhood.  If her parent discovers her act and does not overreact the little girl can be told to give the candy back at the store and apologize. Will the little girl feel shame? Yes, of course. Healthy shame. She will learn an important lesson and most likely remember that experience with embarrassment. This will help her override the impulse if it arises again and the apology to the store owner with the return of the candy bar teaches her she can make amends for bad behavior.

What if this little girl is screamed at, called a thief and humiliated in front of the store owner by her parents? She will have an overwhelming sense of her own badness.  An over-reaction creates toxic or unhealthy shame. This may dissuade the little girl from stealing again, but the cost to her ego is too high. It is our job to teach our children right from wrong but we must strive to do this while protecting their sense of basic goodness.

To under-react or disregard the behavior for fear of hurting the child’s feelings is to miss the opportunity to highlight this important lesson.  Becoming overly incensed or ignoring the action sidetracks us from the simple lesson we are trying to teach–we don’t take things that do not belong to us.

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