I dance in the grocery store. I sing in the car—with my daughter’s friends in the back seat. And apparently, I hang out too long in the parent section of karate school where, my 11-year-old says, “none of the other older kids’ moms stay during class.” Oops.
Yes, I am an embarrassment to my children—in all the usual ways. Sometimes my personality, my social quirks, and my undying devotion can drive my kids to blush and hide, simply because I’m an adult and I gave birth to them, which means I am no longer cool (now that they’re tweens). Mortifying our kids with our humanity is an inevitable part of growing up.
But what about those times when our words and actions trip beyond embarrassment to shame? When our kids are more than just uncomfortable—they’re disgraced?
That’s no longer funny.
And it hurts our kids deeply.
“Parents, do not irritate your children, or they will become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21, GNT)
Here are five ways we can prevent shaming our children.
Respect their privacy. There are two types of privacy for kids. One is physical, the other social. Physical privacy means things like bathroom and dressing space, for example. I have two girls, so when they were younger we’d walk in on each other all the time. But now that they’re growing into young ladies, I’m more careful to respect their dignity. I close the door and knock. I ask if they want help before I give it. I try to teach them their bodies are God’s masterpiece and they have a right to protect it—even from me, to a certain extent.
Social privacy, on the other hand, is a touchier subject. Wise parents monitor texting or social media (if they’re allowed in the first place) and ensure their kids are learning to use these platforms safely and respectfully. My older daughter has an iPod, and she knows I reserve the right to look at its contents anytime. However, that does not mean I have a right to make fun of her for whatever I might find there. As parents, we should help our kids navigate social relationships and offer wise counsel or even discipline, with gentleness and respect. Remember—their peers will shame them enough. Home ought to be a safe place where our kids can be themselves.
Allow privileges with age. As our children get older, we need to affirm their maturity and give them opportunities to exercise it. In my house, that means allowing my firstborn daughter a later bedtime than her sister, inviting her to cook dinner for the family once a week, and dropping her off at the middle school doors without shouting “Mommy loves you, baby!” for all the other kids to hear. If we consistently treat our kids as younger or less capable than they are, we might risk hindering their progress. Kids were born to grow and mature. Let’s be brave and allow them to do it.
Take an interest in their opinions. Kids are kids. They have a child’s view of the world, which is very much their reality. We can’t expect them to think like adults because that’s not what they are. Therefore, we should be careful not to judge their tastes and opinions from our adult standards.
For example, my children are gaga over a particular YouTube show that to me is just plain boring. So rather than belittling their interests and telling them the show is dumb (translated in their minds as Mom thinks WE are dumb), I ask questions. What do you like about this show? Why does it capture your attention? This not only prevents me from shaming my children; it also helps me get to know them better. Win-win.
Don’t scold in front of an audience. A few days ago I realized how readily I scold my daughters in front of each other. On one hand, we’re a family and we don’t hide anything from each other, and sometimes it benefits one child to see the other redirected. But on the other hand, I ought to be more sensitive to how exposed these painful “personal development opportunities” become within our home. I mean, I wouldn’t want my husband to point out my every flaw in front of the kids. So I shouldn’t put anyone else on that hot seat, either.
Consider how much more important this is outside the family circle. Scolding kids in front of their friends or other adults—unless when absolutely necessary in a safety emergency—only shames and embitters them. Let’s try to deliver our discipline in private and with gentleness and respect.
Attack the behavior, not the person. As parents, we’re called to “start children off on the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6) and “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). That involves teaching godly behavior while at the same time assuring our children that God’s love is not dependent on their performance, and neither is ours. We can do this more effectively when we draw a clear line between the child and her choices. I like to think of it this way: no name calling.
My child made a bad choice, but that does not mean she is a bad child.
My child did a dumb thing, but that does make her a dumb person.
My child is struggling with difficult behavior, but that does not make her a difficult kid.
When we fail to separate the person from the behavior, our kids can begin to label themselves as bad, stupid, hopeless or other negatives. But by choosing our words carefully and correcting the behavior without name calling, we can help our kids flourish into the people God created them to be—free from condemnation and shame.
So. I might still hug my daughter in the school parking lot or break into song when a great 80s tune comes on the radio. That’s just part of living with me (sorry, kids—Mom loves you). But hopefully in all the ways it really matters, I won’t give my children reason to grieve. And I hope you’ll do the same.
Becky Kopitzke is the author of “The SuperMom Myth: Conquering the Dirty Villains of Motherhood” and “Generous Love: Discover the Joy of Living ‘Others First’. Becky lives in lovely northeast Wisconsin with her husband and their two daughters, where her home office is overrun with bouncy balls and tween craft supplies. For weekly, keeping-it-real encouragement, visit Becky at beckykopitzke.com.