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Raise a Confident Child: Prevent Shame When They Make Mistakes 

Parents often want to know how they can raise a confident child who has a healthy self-esteem and self-worth, and prevent toxic shame.

For instance, “When my child makes a mistake, how can I help them stay self-confident rather than feeling ashamed? How can I ensure they’re feeling *guilt* rather than *shame*–so that I can prevent the kind of shame that Brené Brown talks about?”

Now that we know the difference between guilt and shame, thanks to the research and wisdom of Brené Brown, we have more knowledge about how we can support our kids to be resilient enough to maintain some confidence, even in the face of their own mistakes.

Here’s my take on how to do this

Perhaps you’re starting to see shame in your child (this often shows up as an unwillingness to admit their mistakes or talk about them)–and you’re wondering what you can say to help prevent shame. 

Brené Brown describes the difference between shame and guilt as follows. 

Shame is the feeling of being unworthy as a person and often cripples self-confidence. Guilt, on the other hand, is a recognition that you’ve done something wrong or hurtful, but is accompanied by remorse plus the deep knowing that you’re still a good person.

Ultimately, the ability to separate yourself from your behavior and see yourself as a good and worthy human despite your mistakes, prevents toxic shame. This is the foundation of good self-esteem and self-confidence.

Trying to explain this to your child rarely works for preventing toxic shame. Here’s what to do instead:

Rather trying to help your child understand intellectually, your child needs you to *see* them and *hear* them.

There may be some cases, when your child is older, in which it helps to explain the difference. But it always helps even more to see them and hear them.

What to do: When they make a mistake–you focus on what need they were trying to get met, or what they’re struggling with, rather than the deficiency or what they missed.

With empathy.

THAT’S what helps them learn to feel worthy.

When you do that, they get a first hand experience of being treated as worthy, regardless of their behavior. And that sets them up to treat themselves as worthy, and without judgment, throughout life. They learn to be more gentle with themselves. 


Your child didn’t do a chore

Maybe your child was supposed to take the garbage out before school, and now you’re leaving and there’s not enough time to do it or you’ll be late. A common (and understandable) response might be, “You forgot to take the garbage out again!” You might even be frustrated because you reminded them, and they were too busy playing or doing something else.

Seeing and hearing your child would sound something like this, depending on what you intuit might be going on with your child, or a curious observation you’re  making. E.g., ➡️

“I notice that sometimes you don’t have enough time to get everything done before school, and then you feel stressed and a bit panicked before we’re leaving. I wonder what you need to help you with that?”

That could be the opening to a conversation in which you brainstorm together.

Your child has been aggressive (again)

Your child is angry at another child who took their toy from them, and hits them in anger. After separating them and providing safety (e.g., “I can’t let you hurt someone else”), the discussion later, after they’re regulated, will be something like: ➡️

“I notice when you have big feelings, like anger or disappointment, sometimes it’s hard for you to control your body”. This will be followed by a strategy/plan to support them to do something differently in the future.

In both of these alternative options, the parent’s underlying message is, “I see you struggling, and I know you’d do better if you could. Let’s figure out what kind of support you need.”

How It Prevents Toxic Shame

The reason it works this way is because toxic shame is always about feeling unworthy as a person. So seeing and hearing your child is an antidote to that.

The reason it’s hard for parents to do this sometimes is because in order to really attune to your child’s experience and see and hear them, you need to be capable of doing that for yourself. If you didn’t have that as a child, it helps to get some support with that.

As parents, typically we need to do some of our own healing work around self-worth, anxiety, and perfectionism before we can really help our kids with this. That’s been my personal experience.

What’s your experience with this? I’d love to hear from you!

For another article on preventing shame, see How to Help Kids Who Are Too Hard on Themselves.

For more in-depth strategies and practices to build your child’s confidence, find out more about the online course:  Raising Confident Kids: Help Your Child Develop Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence.

Photo Credit:  Jarritos Mexican Soda on Unsplash