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Shame is a complex feeling because it has a multifactorial component. When we refer to a multifactorial component, we mean that its origin and maintenance over time depends on several causes. Like all emotion (with its corresponding physical and behavioral changes), children's shame also originates from the brain, and certain regions are responsible for triggering this reaction.
We must not forget, however, the strong educational and social component that sustains shame, or if not ... Why are we ashamed, for example, of having failed an exam? or why does it give us a 'thing' to be late for an important appointment?
If you think about it you should not think that these behaviors are bad. We make a perception and judgment of them based on messages that have been transmitted to us since childhood, for example: you must pass and get good grades or make others wait is rude.
Then there are other types of situations that give us more immediate shame, a shame that does not depend so much on the thought or the messages that have been transmitted to us since childhood. This type of shame is more instinctive, faster and less 'controllable'.
Who can't be embarrassed to speak in public? Or being naked in front of many people? Or be the center of attention of many looks? This type of shame is triggered by the perception of a threat.
The perception and feeling of threat comes from our ancestors and the function it has been fulfilling is to be able to perceive and become aware of potentially harmful situations and remedy them to survive. Currently, the situations that we perceive as threatening are more related to the social context, which is the environment where we move daily.
[Read +: Learn how children's brains work]
In childhood we can also see these two types of shameful reactions:
- The first derived from educational messages, of what we transmit to the children of what is 'wrong'. We can see this especially when we have discovered the child with a lie. Knowing that their behavior has been wrong or that their parents may be disappointed, children respond with shame.
- The second type of reaction, more instinctive, emerges in children around 2 years of age. With this kind of shame, the child learns that certain situations can be threatening and he may not know how to function properly, so he ends up seeking refuge elsewhere or moving away.
And this is where we find great differences between some children and others. We can see that some children are very embarrassing, and even saying hello to the neighbor you see every day can be a battle.
The brain areas responsible for shame are several, but among them stands out the anterior cingulate cortex. This region has a privileged location in the brain and is linked to all those actions that have to do with the processing of information of emotional content.
This is because the anterior cinculate cortex is below the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for reasoning and decision-making, but above the limbic system, responsible for the instinctive processing of all emotions. Within the limbic system is the amygdala, which has a very important role in handling threatening, fearful and survival situations.
Therefore, emotional reactions require both components: the primitive emotional reaction that fulfills the survival function, but also, the rational perception that is given to the situation.
If we look at the more instinctive and cerebral part of the limbic system, the most embarrassing children possibly have these connections reinforced, that is, is more susceptible to brain reacting in a shy and distressing way.
On the other hand, the most sensitive children: emotional sensitivity and sensitivity of the sensory channels (auditory, visual, tactile sensitivity ...) usually have reactions of shame or overflow, due to the fact that they must process a greater number of stimuli, which generates an overflow that produces a blockage. This occurs even in a situation that is not threatening, but as a result of their sensitivity, they can recognize it as such, giving it more importance than it really can have.
On the other hand, regarding the more rational question we must take into account the educational model that we use at home. Many times, excessive shame can come from an excess of rigid limits. The dangerous thing about shame is that it can lead to lying (feeling that the behavior is humiliating or inappropriate) which leads to hiding it.
We must analyze how we react when our son or daughter behaves 'badly' or has developmental behaviors: taking a toy from a friend, taking some class material, or hiding that he has broken something. These types of behaviors are normal in childhood, and of course should be redirected but not in a punitive way that can show feelings of disappointment towards children. This reaction only generates in the future that children tend to react with guilt and shame and 'hide' what they have done.
The ideal is accompany the children in situations they consider threatening. To face them gradually, in small steps. This technique, called exposure, helps to reduce the emotional reaction rates as we face the situation, making them tolerable and acceptable for the child.
Parental support is essential. If you react irritably or with little understanding to the situation, this response does nothing but irritate and increase the feeling of shame in sensitive situations. But if we take it naturally and understandingly, favoring exposure but respecting the child's tolerance, it is much more likely that you, parents and children, will come out of the situation with flying colors.
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