A Crying Shame: Shame in Toddlers

Read about being a mother of 12 as our resident 'Supermom' shares her wise parenting advice.

Parent's Magazine, Spock, and T. Berry Brazelton

As a new parent, so many years ago, I devoured issues of Parent's Magazine, as well as a wealth of parenting books, including some by Dr. Benjamin Spock, and T. Berry Brazelton. Some of what I learned served me well, and some of what I learned no longer has any application. Today, when my daughters call me for advice about their own children, my grandchildren, it's because they know I have experience, having mothered 12 of my own children.

The first time I realized that the books are always right was during a house visit my pediatrician made to see my sick toddler daughter. "She has a fever, and not really much of anything else, symptom-wise," I told David. "I mean, I know she's teething, but Dr. Spock says that babies can't get fevers from teething, so it can't be that."

"Dr. Spock doesn't have five kids." 

David, the father of five children himself, snorted with disdain, "Dr. Spock says that babies can't get fevers from teething because he doesn't have five kids."

It was an epiphany to have an instinct

I remember being very taken aback by this statement. And yet, I was not really surprised. It did seem clear that my daughter's fever and her teething were somehow related. It was an epiphany to have an instinct that went against the information in my books and be told that my instinct was right on.

After parenting many children, I learned more and more to rely on my parental instincts to be an unerring guide in raising my 12 children. For instance, the experts, such as Erik Erikson will tell you that between the ages of 1 and 2, children are going through a stage he calls autonomy versus shame. This means that if you encourage your children to use initiative and reassure them when they make mistakes, your children will develop the courage they need to cope with future situations that demand choice, control, and independent thought. On the other hand, if you overprotect your children and don't allow them independence at this stage, or you disapprove of your children when they display independence, they will be filled with doubt and shame.

There is some truth in this theory, but in my opinion, it falters on the way to the complete truth. I would never praise my toddler's independent act if it is an immoral one, and I do believe that shame and doubt can help my child formulate a moral code.

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