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Talking with Children About Shame
This Lent season, we will be exploring the idea of shame. In our Scorning Shame | Lent Worship Guide 2022, we will be looking at how we see shame in the stories of scripture, how we experience shame, and how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection transform our shame. Shame can be a scary subject to broach with others, so here is a guide to help you discuss it with your family.
Anything mentionable is manageable
Fred Rogers is one of my favorite role models for working with children. As he said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.”
We can experience resistance to talking with our children about shame or other difficult emotions or experiences for a whole host of reasons. But chances are, even if you have tried to parent without shame, even if you have done a good job, your child has experienced some shame. They might not have the words to communicate it. They may refer to it as a heavy feeling, they might run and hide, they might hang their head.
Even if we could parent perfectly, our children still live in this broken world and have experiences with other adults, children, and with the enemy and accuser of their souls. Talking about shame offers an opportunity for children to share their experiences, to make meaning from them, and to open themselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in healing their shame.
Shame as disconnection
Rachel Turner, the founder of Parenting for Faith, suggests talking about shame as disconnection. This squares with current psychological research and with the way Scripture talks about shame, as we’ll see in Genesis 3. The rhythm of connection-disconnection-reconnection-reconciliation, as Turner describes it, is ongoing throughout the story of scripture and throughout our own lives.
As we read stories and talk with children during this season, we can look for and practice naming these movements. In a helpful series of video chats on her website, Turner offers parents language for talking about shame with different age groups of children. These can be found here: https://www.parentingforfaith.brf.org.uk/post/explaining-sin-shame-and-guilt-facebook-live/
A little at a time
Lent is six weeks long, and can be hard for children to keep track of. It’s also a long time to think and talk about something hard and sad like shame. Think of the next six weeks as a chance to have several bite-sized conversations. Read a book, watch a movie. Open the door to your child to show them that this is a topic that God understands, that you understand and experience as well, and that they are welcome to come to you with their shame.
The experience of confessing sins and receiving forgiveness can profoundly shape us. If all you did these next six weeks was commit to confessing your sins against your child to your child and asking for their forgiveness, you would do a lot to model for them what it is to experience disconnection, to confess, to reconnect, and to receive grace. Throughout this journey you may find yourself awed again by the grace and forgiveness of God, and you may find your own shame being healed as you pay attention to and nurture your connection to God, others, and yourself.
Suggested media dealing with shame
- Encanto (Disney)
- Frozen (Disney)
- Zootopia (Disney)
- Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
- Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
- The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
- Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
- Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat by Andrew Wilson
- The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
- You are Special by Max Lucado
- The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson, especially The Warden and the Wolf King
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
- The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
- The Green Ember by S.D. Smith