The Feeling of Guilt in Children

The feeling of guilt is something we learn through life experiences. Discover ways to teach your children through responsibility and not through guilt.
The Feeling of Guilt in Children

Last update: 16 July, 2019

Although childhood seems to be a simple stage of life, a child’s inner world is richer and more complex than we think. When we’re young, we begin to develop beliefs and emotions that will stay with us for life, including the feeling of guilt.

What is the feeling of guilt?

The feeling of guilt is defined as the emotional restlessness that results after doing something that hurts others or is inadequate. Guilt has a special impact on children because of the noble nature of their hearts.

Guilt is a powerful, harmful, and paralyzing emotion. If we don’t learn to manage it properly during childhood, it can shape and mold our personalities and reactions to certain situations throughout our lives.

Where does the feeling of guilt come from?

Guilt isn’t something that we’re born with. We learn about and develop the feeling of guilt through our life experiences.

The Feeling of Guilt in Children

Much of our relationship with guilt depends on what we’re taught from family members and teachers. From a young age, we observe the adults in our lives judging and blaming others and themselves. As a result, we unconsciously imitate that same pattern of behavior.

It’s also very common for adults to use guilt as a way to make children see the consequences of their actions. However, they should discipline their children consciously and coherently instead of basing discipline on their uncontrolled emotional reactions.

Guilt or responsibility

As human beings, we all make mistakes in life. Sometimes we do things that, sooner or later, we recognize as wrong. This is when our parenting styles based on what we’ve been taught come into play. This brings about other feelings in such circumstances.

Children educated in guilt

A child educated in guilt is used to seeing strict judgments in his environment. If we continuously scold our children for doing wrong, we damage their self-esteem. This type of scolding behavior doesn’t lead to reflection and action, but to stagnation.

Children who live those experiences will become emotionally uneasy because they haven’t been taught to manage life in other ways. This response pattern can eventually cause insecurity, fear, and self-discrimination.

It will also affect their interpersonal relationship abilities. Children raised in guilt may be more vulnerable and easily manipulated, or they may become a manipulator themselves.

Children educated in responsibility

We must teach our children the difference between good and evil and establish norms and limits for them. However, we should do it from the approach of responsibility.

The main difference in teaching our children through responsibility and not guilt is that we highlight the natural consequences of their acts, not the imposed punishments. We must promote moral autonomy with our children, guiding them to act according to values ​​and not by obligation or fear.

The Feeling of Guilt in Children

We should help them reflect on their actions and the consequences in constructive ways, highlighting the steps to those actions. Once they recognize their faults, they should find a way to fix those faults and learn from their mistakes.

Once that happens, they shouldn’t have any lingering emotion to that situation. Staying focused on it only causes unnecessary pain and suffering.

How to raise responsible children and not guilty ones

  1. Be responsible for your own emotions. One thing that most hurts children is when their parents make them feel guilty because of their own anger or discomfort. Remember that you’re responsible for managing your emotions. Don’t put that burden on your children.
  2. Teach your children to define guilt. Help them reflect on their share of responsibility in the situation at hand and the other responsibilities that don’t concern them. Guide them so they don’t carry any extra blame or excessive self-demand.
  3. Encourage emotional expression. Allow them to express and share their feeling of guilt. That helps them come out of isolation and manage their emotions in a better way.
  4. Always emphasize the importance of our actions. Encourage them to reflect on their mistakes and fix them or ask for forgiveness. Don’t allow them to stay paralyzed in emotional discomfort because of their actions.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.