It’s not hard to believe that guilt-filled kids turn into depressed adults. But what are we as parents supposed to do about this phenomenon? Here are three antidotes to guilt that you can easily teach your child (and practice yourself):
1) Boundaries. The destructive habit of personalizing negative experiences can be squashed by the simple principle of boundaries: “You are ultimately responsible for your behaviors; I am ultimately responsible for mine.” Teach this by your words as well as behavior. If you scream your head off because Bobby didn’t eat any of your homecooked meatballs, don’t blame Bobby for your choice to slam all the cabinets and storm off. Simply own and apologize for your behavior. If Bobby cries because Johnny said he was stupid, remind him that Johnny’s words are Johnny’s and they don’t define Bobby.
2) Validation. Let Bobby know that, no matter what, all feelings are understandable and worthy of acceptance. (Even sexual, angry, or aggressive feelings.) Behaviors, on the other hand, are not always okay, and sometimes require correction when they hurt another person or are inconsistent with values. When Bobby gets caught cheating on a test, take the step to validate him (“I can see why you would be compelled to do whatever it took to get the grade,”) before offering teaching, consequence, etc.
3) Accountability when your child makes a mistake or when personal growth is indicated. Bobby’s guilt will become neutralized when he learns the arts of apology, making ammends, and creating realistic goals for necessary behavior-change/resolution. Orient Bobby to the helpful habit of turning self-defeating energy into constructive, purposeful, growth.
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