Sunday, July 29, 2007

Shame and the Mess Maker

I am naturally not a very accepting person.  And yet one of the things Amy and I have talked about for the longest time is that our kids know we accept them unconditionally.  So it's often in the back of my mind to make sure to express that to them in my words, body language, and actions.

But I'm also a bit of a neat freak.  And so when Jada makes a mess, it's hard for me not to react in ways that make her feel shame unnecessarily.  If her diarrhea has gotten all over the rug in her bedroom, or if she's spilled her milk on the floor, I don't often pass it off as par for the course for a toddler, and too often make at least a little fuss about having to clean it up.

Today, I came up to the living room and saw Jada sitting on the sofa watching TV.  Our sofa is perpendicular to the TV, and she was sitting on the side closest to the TV, so I asked her to move to the other side so she'd be further away from the TV.  But she refused.  So I went to pick her up and move her, and she protested.  But I moved her anyway.

And then I noticed a puddle where she had been sitting.  Thankfully, it was just water and not any bodily fluids.  But I deduced that she had accidentally spilled her cup of water, and was sitting on top of it to hide her mistake from me. 

I explained to her that it was OK that she had spilled the water, and that next time she should tell me, and that in general she should tell me if something is wrong.  But I knew even when I was saying this that my words, body language, and actions in the past contradicted this sentiment.  I knew she would like continue to be ashamed of her mistakes because of the way I responded to them. 

Shame is a funny thing.  As parents who seek to raise our children in the right way, we believe that there is a healthy kind of shame and an unhealthy kind, but that for a child it's hard to tell the difference since both of them feel sort of the same.  All I know is that I do know I want our kids to feel they can approach me about anything, even and including mistakes they've made.  And that from here on out, I'll have to work hard to not act in ways towards them that make me harder to approach in such situations.
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