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Shame versus Guilt When Speaking to Children

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Understanding the difference between shame and guilt can help identify and make sense of the emotions that come up for us. Shame and guilt can make us feel differently about ourselves and our situation.

 According to “Building Social Emotional Resiliency in Children: An Outline of Mental Wellness Activities”, Guilt is when we can say to ourselves that we did something bad or made a poor choice. Then we can choose to learn from that mistake and do differently in the future.

Shame is when we make a mistake and we say that we are a bad person. That is very different than making a bad choice.

When speaking to children about what is happening for them they may say, “I am a bad person”.  We can open a discussion with them and ask why they are feeling as if they are a “bad person” versus “making a bad choices”.  People can make a ‘bad’ choice and learn from it.  Once the ‘bad’ choice is acknowledged there is a sense of empowerment as to what can be done next.  We don’t need to carry the shame.