Talking to kids about shame
This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner and author of A Kids Book About Shame, Jamie Latourneau. It has been lightly adapted for clarity.
What is shame?
Shame is one of those trickier emotions that we have. It kind of feels like feeling icky or feeling bad. But it's also something that we all have. That's not actually a bad emotion. It's just something that I think that we need to have a little help navigating and figuring out sometimes.
True story? This is one of the first A Kids Book About titles I ever read. Why? Because I struggle with feelings of shame a lot. Ever since I was a kid. And up through now as an adult. Have you felt shame before? Does everyone feel shame?
They do. Some people feel it differently than others. So I think that some people have shame about things and they can talk about it easily or they can move through it more easily, But some people, it affects them more and it kind of sticks with them for longer periods of time.
People feel shame in different ways and for different reasons.
I think lots of things can cause us to feel shame. Sometimes it's other people that do something that make us feel like we did something wrong, even if that's not true. So other people can kind of cause those feelings to come up in us.
We can also do things or try to do things or not do things at all that can make us feel shame if we feel like we did something not so great or wrong, so it can come from a lot of different situations.
Before we go too much further, I want to clarify something. Feeling guilty about doing something is different from feeling shame.
Yeah, and I think it gets confusing too, because it sometimes is dependent on someone's belief system. But if someone disagrees with someone else, they can cause someone to feel shame that they did something wrong. But I think that gets confusing throughout your life if you change your mind about what you believe is the right thing to do or the wrong thing.
Yeah. I mean in that way it’s almost like guilt feels like a failure of someone else and shame feels like a failure of yourself.
I don't think there's a magic button to get rid of shame. And I think that we can always experience shame throughout our lives, but I do think that it can help us a lot to move through shame instead of around it, by talking to other people about it.
And especially talking to people that you feel safe with. And something really cool can happen when you talk to other people about your shame: it gives them space to talk about theirs, too.
I don't think we can magically make it go away, but we can sure make it feel like it's less scary and less of a big deal that we have to live with it. We can talk to other people about it and kind of work through it and figure out how to make it not overtake our life.
I love, as you continue through the book, that where you land is that you’re not alone. And that these feelings are normal. And that, as you said earlier, talking about them will help as well and we should never be afraid to talk about them.
I definitely experienced shame as a kid and that's a big reason why this was such a heavy topic on my heart that I wanted to share with kids. And I do have vivid memories of feeling it heavily as a kid. And one memory sticks out in particular, which is what influenced the page, “Shame feels like playing hide and seek, but not wanting to be found.”
We had a ceramic toilet paper holder that was attached to the wall. And it fell off and ripped off, and then paint came off the wall. And I was probably only, like, six or seven. But it came off the wall. And I was so afraid that I did it, that I did something wrong, that I broke it, and that I was going to get in trouble.
And so I ran into my room and I hid in between my bed and the wall. There was like this tiny little space and I just turned into a sardine, slipped in there. And I could hear my family calling for me eventually and looking for me. And I just kept hiding.
And I thought, you know, if I hide, they won't find me and I won't get in trouble and I, they won't get mad at me.
And then finally, my mom found me and asked me what was going on. And I started crying and I told her what happened. And she kind of laughed and smiled and gave me a hug and told me it wasn't my fault. And she said it was just an accident. You know, it's just old. It just broke off the wall. It's not your fault.
But I did that a lot where I would hide and I’d think that something was my fault. And yeah, for some reason, I really felt bad when things like that happened, even though I didn't, you know, I didn't do anything wrong. But my brother on the other hand, didn't feel like that when things happened and my mom notices that: that we were really different.
Listener, there’s no deadline to move beyond shame. It’s okay to take whatever time you need whenever the need comes up. Take it from me. And take it from Jamie.
So it took me a long time to figure out more of what I believed in and what other people were telling me wasn't necessarily what I agreed with.
So, yeah, it took a long time and I really hope that with this book that kids can figure out that it's okay to talk about their emotions much earlier in life [so] that maybe they're not hiding in between the bed and the wall when something happens.
Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week, we have Jamie Latourneau, author of A Kids Book About Shame.