My daughter, 5, pushed her brother over (4/6/20). He was trying to find something where she was sitting and thus pushing her (he is 3). We had just talked about some new “boundary setting” in our house where we have 2 rules 1) say Stop without hitting and 2) respect that “Stop means stop.” I asked her if she said stop first before hitting. She burst into tears, “I forgot!” Then she declared, “I want to be alone!” and ran into my bedroom. This story is about reaching out to children who internalize (run away) rather than externalize (hit) when they are in deep pain.
My daughter is an extreme extrovert who needs me with her to fall asleep, i.e., needs closeness. When she went into the bedroom, I knew I had to follow her. I walked in, and she yelled, “Leave me alone!” I came into the bed and said, “I want to cuddle with you.” She didn’t push me away.
I laid down next to her, put a blanket on us, etc. I said I liked being here with her. Then I said, “I think what you are feeling right now is shame. Shame is when you feel like you did something bad.” She yelled, “I DON’T FEEL SHAME. I FEEL GUILTY.”
I said, “Ok. Guilt and shame are almost the same thing. The difference is guilt is like you spilled a cup over and you feel guilty so you pick it back up. Shame is usually when someone tells you you are bad, like your mommy, and you feel really bad and you feel like a bad person. You are worried to be around other people because you think you are bad.” I know a thing or two about this feeling.
I said, “Can I tell you how I handle this kind of shame? I take a nap. And I tell myself, ‘I don’t deserve this shame.’ And then I wrap myself in something that makes me feel good. Maybe I take a bath or I put myself in a big blanket,” and I snuggled her with the blanket. She smiled at this. But she said, “I just want to be alone!”
I said, “I think you are punishing yourself.” She demanded, “What does that mean!” I said, “I think you feel so bad that you don’t think you can be out there and you have to be in here. You don’t have to feel that way. Mommy loves you. Daddy loves you. You don’t ever have to feel like this.” I hit the jackpot. She lit up and understood.
She noted her older brother gets mad at her. With him totally out of ear shot, I said, “We’ll go like this to him,” and I stuck my tongue out. She laughed heartily at this. We had much silly banter after that.
That warm blanket. It’s so important.
I talk about the difference between guilt (interal) and shame (externally-imposed) and the importance of self-soothing in my book Towards Liberalism: A Challenge to Objectivist Ethics. Liberal: abundant, full, nurturing understanding. It challenges the harsh, judging ethics of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, similar philosophies of which dominate Western culture.
Amber is most known for her child development work, documenting the age-related stages children go through. Send your friends to The Observant Mom.