How to Parent From Compassion and Not Shame

Conscious parenting supports compassion, not shame. Learn what that looks like and how to teach your children accountability without shaming them.

Parenting is a constant dance of nurturing, guiding, and molding young minds. While you move through the music of parenthood, it's essential to employ tactics that foster positive growth while avoiding those that could lead to harmful consequences. One such tactic that the conscious parenting model strongly advises against is shaming children. Let's get deeper into the concept of shame, explore its expression in parenting interactions, and uncover why shaming is a detrimental approach to children according to the principles of conscious parenting.

Unveiling the Nature of Shame

Shame is a complex emotion that arises when a person believes they are inherently bad, unworthy, or flawed. It's a deeply internalized feeling that stems from a sense of inadequacy and negative self-judgment. Shaming often results in individuals believing that they, as people, are inherently flawed or bad, rather than viewing their actions as separate from their core identity.

Shaming in Parenting

In parenting, shaming can manifest in various ways. It might involve using hurtful language, belittling comments, or even non-verbal cues that convey disapproval and disdain. For instance, telling a child, "You're such a troublemaker!" or using sarcasm to ridicule their actions can evoke feelings of shame. This can lead to children internalizing the belief that they are inherently wrong or defective.

Guilt vs. Shame

Conscious parenting recognizes the distinction between guilt and shame. While guilt arises when a child recognizes that their behavior was wrong, shame goes beyond this and makes the child feel like they themselves are bad. Guilt is a natural response to misbehavior and serves as a guiding force for building character and moral values. On the other hand, shame has a toxic effect on a child's self-esteem, leading them to believe they are fundamentally flawed and that there is something wrong with them. We can see this in situations where a parent may say something like, “Your baseball just knocked over that plant! You’re a bad boy!” When what they likely mean is, “throwing your baseball in the house was a bad choice and it knocked over that plant.”  To some, those two sentences may seem very similar, but here’s where we need to be careful with our words: Children take things at face value without added analysis. They think in very literal terms. If they hear “you’re a bad boy” to them, that must be true.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

When a child continually absorbs the message that they are "bad" due to shaming, it's no surprise that this belief can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The child might start acting out in line with this belief, as it shapes their self-perception and expectations of themselves. As they grow, their actions might mirror the label they've internalized, leading to a cycle of negative behavior that reinforces their self-view.

Fostering Healthy Emotional Development

Conscious parenting places a high value on nurturing healthy emotional development. While guilt can naturally emerge in children as young as 3 years old, it's crucial not to force this feeling upon them. Life itself presents opportunities for children to experience the appropriate weight of their actions. Conscious parenting suggests letting life be the best teacher and focusing on teaching and guiding your child with love, compassion, and kindness.

The Power of Love, Compassion, and Kindness

Shaming often arises from frustration, a lack of patience, or a misunderstanding of effective parenting tactics. However, conscious parenting advocates for an alternative approach rooted in love, compassion, and kindness. By embracing open communication, empathetic understanding, and respectful discipline based on natural consequences, parents can teach children about accountability, empathy, and self-awareness without resorting to shaming. Using the earlier example about the baseball knocking over the plant and it making a mess, a more conscious approach to shaming may look like this: "You threw your baseball in the house, that was a bad idea and it knocked over the plant. Where are we supposed to play with the baseball? Yes, outside. And why do you think that is? Yes, because throwing it inside could break things or make a mess. Please go get the broom. I'll be here if you need my help while you clean it up."

The Lifelong Impact

The impact of shaming can be profound and long-lasting. Children who have experienced shame as a parenting tactic may struggle with self-worth, confidence, and the ability to form healthy relationships in the future. In contrast, children raised in an environment nurturing the positive-reinforcement of love, compassion, and kindness are more likely to develop a positive self-image and a foundation of emotional resilience. By prioritizing open communication and respectful discipline, we create an environment where our children thrive emotionally and develop the skills and confidence needed for a fulfilling and meaningful life. In the conscious parenting model, the power of positive parenting shines bright as we shape the future generation with love and compassion.