For Shame-The Mechanics of Shame in Toddlers

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

Parents spend an awful lot of time trying to prevent our children from feeling guilty.  I am no exception to the rule, as I have struggled with my behavior through the years of mothering my 12 children. We've all been inundated with a wealth of parenting material that label so many of our most natural behaviors as unproductive, or even somehow damaging. I'm sure that anger, shame, and guilt come foremost to your mind as you think about emotions and behavior we are somehow supposed to avoid.

a radical thought

As someone who has much experience raising children, I'd like to suggest a radical thought: that shame, anger, and guilt all have a place in your child's life and can be healthy and appropriate when their use is not abused. This is not an easy distinction to make, and we are bound to make mistakes here and there. The important issue here, I believe, is that we be right-thinking and informed. That way, our behavior is more liable to conform to appropriate norms.

traversing a mine field

For example, we want our children to understand modesty, and at a certain age, it is no longer correct for our children to display nudity. There's a balance between making them aware that body parts should not be displayed in public as against the avoidance of the suggestion that there is something shameful about the human body, or at least our child's body. This is a very difficult area; a mine field through which we must provide constant guidance for our children.

The idea of shame starts early on with our children. Our toddlers show they have a concept of shame at about the age of one year. In my own home, this manifested by my eldest daughter hiding in the closet or behind a chair as she defecated, even though she was still in diapers. Today, I see my almost two year old granddaughter doing the same hiding technique as she marks out a place of privacy for the accomplishment of bowel movements.

praise children for being modest

When children begin to understand shame, they are exploring social norms: the shoulds and should nots of society. I think it's very important to praise children for being modest and developing a sense of privacy. You might say to your daughter, "I am proud that you close the door to the bathroom when you make. I am glad you understand that some things are private."

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