I’m inspired to write today’s blog by a post that was shared in my Facebook group.
It spoke about resisting the urge to lose it with our kids, and the power of teaching our own brains to take a more self-controlled response instead.
And it spoke about the shame of having those impulsive behaviours programmed into our brains to begin with, even though we technically didn’t put them there.
And we didn’t.
These kinds of instinctive reactions are a melting pot; a combination of our genetic data, the programming of our earliest experiences, and the work of our hard-wired fight or flight system, which; while being mighty efficient; is also often might-wrong (because it doesn’t think, it feels!)
This is why change; changing behaviours especially (our own, as well as our kids’); can be such hard work.
But that’s not the topic today. It’s shame.
Most of us are much further away from using shame in our own parenting journey than we may have experienced in our own childhoods, but even so, it’s more deeply engrained in our own children than many of us realise.
Shame starts early. When your baby stuck their fingers in a plug socket, firmly saying ‘NO!’ was a necessary part of keeping them alive.
But at such an early age, that kind of teaching is so powerful because it’s shame doing the work.
Essential at it is, that early – and ongoing -programming is also why it can be easy for our children (and for us!) to be deeply rattled, even when there’s no obvious reason.
Like last night, for example, my son threw a ball for the dog.
We both saw it coming. The ball bounced off the floor and straight into a wine glass (yes I was having a glass of wine on a school night…) The sound of shattering glass didn’t help.
He curled up on the settee and refused to talk to me, insisting I was angry, when I wasn’t at all. Why?
Because as well as programming his baby-brain with ‘NO’, there have been plenty of times since when something has been broken, or a perfectly preventable accident’s occurred, and I haven’t been so measured in my response. AKA , being human.
So while most of us don’t intentionally shame our children, we still need to be aware of the power of shame, because it’s alive in to all of us, from since before our earliest memories.
Sadly, it doesn’t help that most of our kids’ schools ‘manage’ behaviour with traffic light systems or ‘rain clouds’ etc., which; while they may not set up as shaming practices; are exactly that.
And it’s a self-defeating exercise.
Shame creates the most toxic biochemical composition in the brain, meaning it can disable learning capacity in a heartbeat.
This is why ‘self-other’ comparisons are toxic, even when there’s no outward shaming going on.
This is why, even with our best intentions as heart, we should avoid comparing our children’s behaviour or actions to others’.
And this is why our kids can be so troubled by their lack of certificates, or that their friend has graduated to a hand-writing pen and they haven’t, that they haven’t been chosen out as special for some reason.
Of course, our children need to develop the resilience to deal with these setbacks, that there’ll always be others who are better or faster, or just luckier.
That deserves a different blog post altogether.
But for today my point is this.
Just because you don’t shame your children, appreciate that, to an extent, it’s somewhere deeply programmed into their earliest brain development.
And accept that without shame, because that was part of keeping them alive before they knew how to do it themselves.
And accept that shame is somewhere deeply programmed into your brain too, because that’s how; for the vast majority of us; our brains were built.
So when your child is ‘over sensitive’; when their behaviours are confusing, dramatic or over-the-top; when they give themselves a hard time, even when they’re sad’; it’s often just because shame is driving the bus.
And the imprint of shame means ‘Stop being silly’, ‘Don’t worry about it’, ‘Let’s be positive’ etc., doesn’t tend to cut it.
Empathy and connection; not problem-solving; are your allies in those moments.
And BTW, when you’re ‘over sensitive’, dramatic or over-the-top, even when you’re sad, it’s often because shame is driving the bus.
And then, when you give yourself a hard time for behaving like that, you’re basically just hitting the gas harder.
So – not only in the interests of being kind to yourself, but because you’re in charge of programming your children’s growing brains – try to steer clear of shaming yourself too.
Show them how to let yourself off the hook.
Show them self-compassion.
Show them how to be a perfectly imperfect, flawed human being; it’s one of the greatest gifts we can ever give our kids 💖
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