The ways in which we could be shaming our children is a topic making the rounds in parenting circles. But one area that could be explored more, in my opinion are the very subtle instances — the moments when we think something is no big deal in our everyday dealings with our kids — that could also induce shame. Those little moments add up and if we don't pay attention, they could be causing lasting harm to our little one's hearts and minds. You probably aren’t even aware of the many NBD things that may be causing your toddler shame.
In thinking about my own words and actions towards my toddler in this light, I realized that I engage in some shame-inducing behavior of which I wasn't at all aware. Some of it has to do with the fact that, yes, I’m human and I’m not always able to step outside of an immediate situation and think, “How can I approach this in the most empathetic and sensitive way so that my child’s feelings are left secure and intact?” But I was most shocked about the "NBD shames" that I inflict on my son, whether it be laughing at his feelings (because sometimes toddler tantrums are funny), making flippant comments about what he wants to wear (“All the boys are wearing shirts, not dresses, right now”) or the way I discipline him in an attempt to get him to go to bed. I realize I have a lot of work to do.
I also think that the topic of “shame” is tricky. A parent can read these kinds of articles and feel like they just should crawl into a hole and not even try because every direction they step seems to be a landmine. I get that. I feel that. Plus, it can also be frustrating to add “your toddler” to the list of people to whom you have to be sensitive to in our very sensitive-seeming world these days. Still, there’s a difference between drawing attention to areas where people can be conscious about their words and actions and telling them to censor themselves. This is not about censorship in parenting. This is about raising confident children and thinking about treating our kids the way we would want to be treated ourselves by people who we love. It isn’t that complicated. Operating from a place of shame is not operating from a place of confidence or joy.
The moments that feel like they aren’t that big a deal to us, as parents, have a much bigger significance to the little people in our lives because everything we do looms so much larger in their eyes.
When You Casually Tell Them To Be A Big Boy Or Big Girl
When your child leaves the fumbling, put-everything-in-their-mouth toddler stage and graduates to solidly walking toddler stage, you can't help but expect some other "big kid" behaviors to follow suit as well. It can be especially frustrating when your child's peers seem to be reaching milestones faster, whether it is feeding themselves for every meal, giving up a bottle, saying "Bye Felicia" to the pacifier, and sleeping in their own bed at night instead of yours.
I know that I've fallen into the trap of saying things to my toddler like, "It's time to be a Big Boy and say goodbye to your pacifiers!" or, "Big boys don't wear diapers!" When I say it, in my mind, it is in the spirit of helping my son move forward onto the next stage of life, and get him on the same level as most of his friends. I don't want him to be the last kid being led to the changing table at preschool (though that's purely my own ego, since he doesn't really care, obviously). But making comparisons to other friends of his, or implying that all the other awesome things he does don't add up to him being a "Big Boy," are possible ways I could be shaming my toddler.
When You Laugh Or Joke About A Diaper Or Potty Training Accident
Sure, it is funny when a little poop comes up the back of a pull-up diaper, travels over the edge of your kid's jeans, and onto the toys he has spilled onto the floor during his play date. As a parent, you can't help but shrug and laugh as you find yourself wiping poop off of tiny figurines and Legos and throwing your kid and your friend's kid in a middle-of-the-day bath. But what about your kid? Do you think he finds it funny? Maybe not.
This exact scenario happened to me just the other day, and it wasn't until later that I thought about how my son must have felt about me and my friend laughing hysterically about the poop (his poop) on the floor. There he was, minding his own business, hanging out with a friend, and then I come in to point out a shameful thing he's done, interrupt his play, and make a giant deal about the whole thing. Even though I didn't yell at him or get upset, I made a production out of his bowel movement and if Freud had anything to say about it, it would not be good.
When You Record Their Meltdowns For Social Media
Ah, the lure of that hilarious Instastory video you could be getting right now of your kid screaming for his Halloween candy at the end of May while in his pajamas right before bedtime. It could be an awesome #everyparent moment or you could put down your damn phone and try to deal with the actual feelings your toddler is having that are making him or her feel like a record on loop of pure need for sugar.
Oh yes, this is another story from personal experience. Maybe I deserve a Best Mom Ever award (thank goodness Mother's Day has passed and I already got my cards). I actually had my camera out last night to record my son's "I want candy now!" meltdown before going to bed. I was laughing at the absurdity of the request while occasionally saying, "Are you kidding me? No!" Now, when I put myself in his shoes and picture myself wanting, say, a Milano cookie before going to bed at night and being told that there is no way in hell I'm ever getting a Milano cookie before bed, and then someone were to record me being upset about it, I can't believe the shame I put my son through. I am a horrible person. I should star in Mommy Dearest, the remake.
When You Don't Realize You're Forcing Them Into Gender Stereotypes
You may have a kid who really, really hates those Lil Sport soccer classes you've enrolled him into. Maybe instead he's expressed interest in the Tot Ballet class that is happening across the room, but you keep telling him that ballet is for girls. What's he supposed to do with that information, given that he was assigned his gender at birth? Even the seemingly simple act of making him go to classes that he clearly does not enjoy because they seem like "the thing all the other kids" (of his gender) are doing, can make a child feel ashamed of the feelings they have and the desires that they have for activities they would prefer to be doing.
When You Get Frustrated Over Their Bad Mood In A Social Situation
You went out of your way to take your toddler to the train museum, or the butterfly show, or whatever thing it was that they had been looking forward to with glee. Then you get there and it is an epic fail by all accounts. You just can't understand how the same child who seemed over the moon about standing in a room of butterflies, is now terrified and wailing and cowering under your shirt and, well, there goes the $40 you just paid for tickets into the museum and special exhibit. Awesome. You also may say something like, "What is wrong with you? You were the one who wanted to come here so badly and now you're freaking out!"
This would not be the epitome of an awesome mom moment. It is so damn hard to roll with the punches in these situations, but kid emotions are fickle, especially when they're in the toddler stage. Sure, they may have thought that butterflies or trains would have been epic, but the reality of the sensory overload may have been too much and that is OK.
When You're Fighting Bedtime Battles
When I fight my nightly go-to-bed battles with my son who doesn't seem to ever want to sleep, I sometimes find myself in that last resort of wanting to punish him. I know. I know. But when he's been wandering out of his room and demanding the other blanket, then saying he hates that blanket. then running into his brother's room to wake him up, then yelling at me that I got him the wrong water cup, and then finally telling me that he is hungry for more dinner, I tell him to go into his room and I close the door. Then I hold it and I don't let him out until I hear that he's listened to me when I say, "Go to your bed, and then I'll open the door." At this point he usually knows I mean business, and he actually goes to bed as a result. So yes, I attain my goal. But at what cost? In the minute or two that he is crying in the dark room for me to open the door, he is probably feeling shame. He probably feels like he is "bad." I don't usually think about these events as a big deal, however. They happen too often to take on a large significance, in my mind.
But the experts think differently. According to Peggy Drexler, Ph.D and author of Our Gender, Ourselves, there is a difference between discipline and punishment. Drexler says, "It's important to remember that while discipline is crucial during all stages of raising a child, discipline is not about getting even, inducing guilt, or even punishing — all of which are forms of shaming a child. Instead, disciplining, at any age, is about correcting and guiding him toward more appropriate behavior.
When We Tell Them They've Had Enough Of Whatever Good Thing They're Asking For More Of
When we like something we usually would like more of it. So when we casually tell our toddler that they have had enough of whatever good thing they are enjoying, we are telling them that their current feeling about that thing is wrong. The message they are receiving is something like, "You shouldn't want another cookie right now." But why the hell not? Our bodies are wired to want more sugar. I know I like more than one cookie almost all the damn time.
What I am going to do, going forward, is to make a mental "time out" and think about how my toddler feels in these seemingly NBD moments. I will ask myself, "Is this how I would want someone to react to me right now?" I'm pretty sure the answer will be "no." I am going to try to be better. At least, I'm conscious of the problem now, and that's the first step towards improving.