Two of the most common mistakes parents tend to make when it comes to raising their children are shaming and enabling them. Shaming and enabling in the name of discipline cans sometimes backfire very badly and will end up doing more harm than good. Handling every situation with positivity, open-mindedness, and patience should be what every parent should aspire for.
Refusing to hold a child accountable is detrimental to the child’s development of character. A parent who is perpetually searching for a teacher, coach, or another child to scapegoat in place of holding his or her child responsible may be undermining a child’s strides towards emotional health. Similarly, a parent who attempts to bend the rules for a child in order to shield the child from disappointment may also be short-circuiting a child’s resiliency.
However, swinging too far in the opposite direction and shaming a child for a mistake or failure is not the answer either. The solution lies in the middle.
The mantra, “It’s not what happens to a child, it’s how a parent helps a child through it,” maybe the golden rule. A parent who shames a child is not a parent who helps a child through a rough patch or assists a child in gaining insight.
For example, say a child denies having homework because he wants to play with his friends. The next day, he is caught scrambling to complete the assignment before class. The teacher reprimands the child and assigns him a zero for the project. A parent who enables and shames a child is tempted to contact the teacher and demand the child receive points for the work that was completed. At home, the parent yells at the child and calls him a “liar.”
On the other hand, a parent who respects the teacher’s stance and calmly sits down with the child to discuss the matter is a parent attempting to understand, not enable. Empathizing with the child’s feelings: “I get it. You didn’t want to miss out on time with your friends. You are afraid of being left out. I understand. But, honey, homework comes first. I’d like you to finish the project tonight and turn it in tomorrow.”
When the child becomes aware of the feelings which compel the negative behavior, the child gains insight. Understanding emotions prevent a child from acting them out inappropriately. This helps a child gain self-awareness and insight. Next, the parent reinforces accountability.
The child is likely to pitch a fit because he does not want to do the work without getting credit. The parent empathizes again, yet upholds the expectation: “You are angry. I get it. It’s frustrating to complete a project knowing it won’t improve your grade, but it may remind you to do your work the first time.”
It may also be necessary to sit with the child to reinforce and encourage him to follow through. Paying bills or responding to emails while sitting at the table with the child allows the parent the opportunity to calmly reinforce the expectation by his or her close physical presence. Most importantly, this approach also communicates to the child that the parent values hard work more than an outcome. Effort and integrity are prioritized over a good grade.
Often when a parent only recognizes a child’s achievements and overlooks validating who the child is, the child believes she is only as good as the next achievement. Winning becomes everything. The child’s self-esteem is based on performance and perfection instead of a grounded sense-of-self. Often, a parent who derives satisfaction from how the child makes him or her look instead of prioritizing the child’s emotional needs may be compromising the child’s mental health.
Unfortunately, a parent who puts his or her feelings first may tend to punish a child for having a feeling that is contradictory. Continually shaming a child for feeling differently may be inhibiting the child’s ability to consolidate his or her sense-of-self. For example, say a child asks to spend some of his birthday money on a “treasure” he finds at a garage sale. His mom is experiencing significant financial stress and is trying to declutter her house to sell. She is wholeheartedly against wasting money on garage sale junk, but before telling her son “no,” she remembers her promise to him. She agreed that he could spend a portion of his birthday money on something he chose.