The distinction between shame and guilt is an interesting one. Recently, in “Raising a Moral Child, “New York Times writer Adam Grant explained, “Shame is a negative judgment about the core self, which can be devastating. In contrast, guilt is a negative judgment about an action, which can be repaired by good behavior.”
Shame what we get from others, while guilt can be a judgment from others or ourselves. Of course anyone can be ashamed of being caught in an action, which still deals with one’s reputation. Guilt has to do with God or God’s government—or possibly some authority figure. The article says:
By age 2, children experience some moral emotions — feelings triggered by right and wrong. To reinforce caring as the right behavior, praise is more effective than rewards. Rewards run the risk of leading children to be kind only when a carrot is offered, whereas praise communicates that sharing is intrinsically worthwhile for its own sake. But what kind of praise should we give when our children show early signs of generosity?
Is it praise or commendation that should be the reinforcement? Unfortunately some parents mistakenly praise beauty, physical skill, intelligence (even when it is not there), and the children become so proud they are repugnant even to extended family and friends. These same children may have hard knocks from the world around them, but they cannot, will not, accept their own responsibility for their behavior. They tend to blame their non-acceptance on race, religion or lack of money.
Consider that God’s kind of praise is far more effective than any other. What does God praise? God appreciates faithfulness, kindness, love, obedience, or sacrifice among other things. Show children these are qualities in the heart of Christ and they should learn to walk in his steps. Such will have an everlasting effect if the direction is given early enough.
Children are normally humble and can be directed easily, but a continual diet of shame or abuse can crush a little soul. Think about how you would feel if you had to face a giant three times your size every minute of every day. If that giant were kind and compassionate in the way he dealt with you, you could learn to be that way too, but if the giant is condescending, angry or accusative all the time… You get the picture!
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. 9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates (Deu. 6:6-9).