Last week a mother made the news because she stopped her 2 children running around Tesco’s by making them sit on the floor for 10 minutes to calm down. In effect she was taking the naughty step technique and applying it in the middle of the supermarket. The problem with stopping their unwanted behaviour in this way was that it added an element of shame to the technique and that is what I believe caused the backlash against her.
I would not have made the same choice but I do feel sorry for the Mum. She was trying to take responsibility for her children’s behaviour and to stop to it in a calm and assertive way. I am sure if she had continued to let them run around the supermarket she would have been criticised for that too.
This story made me reflect on the affect of shaming a child. My passion is to help parents nurture confident and happy children and in order to feel this way the children need to value their own self worth. In his book, I Heart Me, David Hamilton suggests that shaming a child causes the child to become apprehensive and to learn to hold back, not the actions of a child with high self worth.
You may think that you would never shame your child but have you ever used the phrase ” You are…” followed by a negative comment? Here are some examples of such statements:-
- You are stupid
- You are lazy
- You are a liar
- You are bad
- You are good for nothing
The problem with these statements is that they are commenting on the child’s identity not on something they have just done. If you say these statements often enough the child starts to believe that they are stupid, lazy, a liar etc and they start to feel shame about who they are. In fact if you use these statements regularly you are helping your child to become something you don’t want them to be.
Many years ago I suggested to a friend of mine that if he continued to tell his 6 year old son that he was stupid, one day his son would turn round to him and say ” You think I’m stupid Dad don’t you? At the time my friend didn’t understand the damage that such a statement could make to his son and he laughed as he told me his son always did stupid things. I tried to point out that there is a big difference between saying ” That was a stupid thing to do” and “You are stupid“. It took another 6 years before my friend heard those dreaded words.
As children grow up they hear the affirmation ” You are….” many times from parents and teachers so whenever we use such a powerful phrase we need to complete it with a positive word. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important”. These are the three positive affirmations that the nanny in the brilliant film The Help gives to the little girl she is taking care of. Every day she gets the child to repeat the phrases back to her, so every day the little girl is affirming I am kind. I am smart. I am important.
Do you remember the Robbie Williams song I love my Life? I love to hear children singing this song because the chorus is made up of 7 positive affirmations. How high would a child’s self worth be if they believed these powerful words?
“I am powerful
I am beautiful
I am free
I love my life
I am wonderful
I am magical
I am me”
If you want your child to grow up believing in themselves then be careful how you use the phrase “You are….” My guidance here is not about stating the reality when your child has misbehaved but about acknowledging what they have done without making it who they are.