Colorado Srpings, CO
Monday, March 12, 2012
What is one of the most important and difficult parental responsibilities? Is it disciplining firmly but warmly? Maintaining a close bond while setting limits that may upset your child? How about healthy guilt training that results in your child admitting mistakes and correcting them comfortably?
Here's the answer I get from the majority of parents I counsel: teaching healthy guilt.
There are two parts to guilt training: teaching what's right and wrong and—the really hard part—helping children feel they are okay as they go about correcting a wrongdoing.
It's no wonder guilt training is so important but so difficult. Most of us dread making mistakes like we dread a root canal. And admitting we're wrong? Well, that feels almost impossible to do routinely.
Consider Jacob's situation. He always blames others when there's a problem. Mom tries to explain that he wouldn't get into so much trouble if only he would come clean about what he did. Why can't Jacob pull this off? His guilt is unhealthy; it's too harsh. He's learned being wrong means he won't survive. I know, "survive" sounds over the top, but when children don't feel basically okay about themselves, they act like messing up is a life-or-death situation.
And then there are children like Eva, who've learned they're okay even when they're wrong. Eva heads to her room to think about why she back-talked to her mom. Eva later apologizes to her mom and then bursts into tears as she explains that her best friend had put her down at school in front of everyone else. That's guilt doing what it's supposed to do: sending a wrongdoing alert signal, figuring out why a mistake was made, and then making corrections by owning one's part in the mistake.
We all know guilt is a necessary, incredibly powerful part of living a good life. It's like nuclear energy; if it's properly contained, you can count on raising a self-confident child. When it's not contained, watch out, the heart gets contaminated and children will end up believing they are bad far too often.
If you see some signs of unhealthy guilt in your child—and who of us doesn't?—evaluate your guilt training. Make sure you are maintaining a strong barrier between your child's heart and the wrong behavior. Try to understand your child by doing these two simple things: first focus on the heart by understanding your child's point of view and then gently deal with the behavior by trying out different solutions to the problem, finding one that fits your child. Allowing wrongdoing to contaminate the heart will produce children (and later, adults!) who either blame others or themselves way too often.
Take-home lesson: Guilt training needs to be continually monitored. Make it healthy and watch your child flourish.
Colorado Srpings, CO