I was driving home late last night and I stopped at a rest stop. A mom waited patiently for her three young kids to use the restroom. The kids then washed their hands, used the XLERATOR hand dryer, and became enamored by it. The strong hot air, the noise, the automatic sensors, it was all too exciting.
Mom wanted to use the restroom, too, while keeping an eye on the kids, so she asked them gently to remain standing by the sinks. Which they did. Except that they continued playing with the XLERATOR hand dryer. It went on and off, on and off, on and off as the kids experimented with the sensors.
From the stall, she told them again softly to stop playing with it, but they didn’t listen. As she walked out of the bathroom with her kids in tow, she said to them in a voice that everyone in the vicinity could hear, “This shows me that you’re bad kids.”
And I cringed. It pained me to hear those words. I wanted to whisper to her that she was shaming them and it was terribly hurtful to them. I wanted to tell her how damaging it is for kids to be told that, and that it would take years of therapy, if not a lifetime, to overcome these bad feelings. I know because I’m still working on overcoming these feelings.
I wish she had said to them, “I’m upset that you didn’t listen to me when I asked you to stop.” Had it ended there, the kids would have learned that their behavior was a problem, but they themselves were not a problem. She could have even given them a small consequence commensurate with their misbehavior, such as a positive practice, and the kids would have understood that they deserved it. In fact, the punishment would have absolved their guilt, especially if the mom subsequently continued relating to her kids as if all was good now, and she continued loving them and interacting with them as usual.
That’s the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is “I did something bad.” Shame is “I AM bad.” With guilt, you can change your behavior and feel better. With shame, no matter what you do to change, you still feel like a bad person.
Have a great week!