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Shame-Free Parenting

August 28, 2013

Shame is one of the most ubiquitous behavior-modification tools used in our society. You know what they say, if your only tool is a hammer…

The reason it is so ubiquitous is because it (apparently) works so well. The reason it works so well is because it starts early. It is effective even with adults because it is applied so liberally to kids. It is the go-to solution for enforcing good behavior for everything from potty training to table manners to sexual abstinence to performance in school.

Not because no other tools exist, not because nothing else works, but because it’s the norm (and because of the tendency to raise our kids the way we were raised).

The problem is that it produces desired behavior at the expense of self esteem, and, especially when it is applied early and in heaping doses, it tends to become internalized, and thus crippling. But just imagine what life would be like if, for one generation, the default was reset. Imagine a whole generation of people who didn’t have an overlay of shame blocking access to other motivations; motivations like compassion, love, generosity, wonder, and respect. What would the world look like then?

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