If you’re like most parents, the slightest cry from your infant sends you running. By the time your child is a preschooler, however, you may find yourself waiting until the cry turns to an all-out wail before you console her. The major difference is that now you know what the different cries mean because your child is developing her emotions, and with this development comes a range of cries. Two of these emotions -- pride and shame -- emerge between the ages of 15 to 24 months, and can affect the way you parent -- based on her unique personality, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Self-awareness is the main catalyst to the development of pride and shame in a child. You may notice that when your infant is becoming a toddler at around 15 months, that she is developing rapidly. Your sweet little baby who smiled and cooed when she looked at your face may seem now more like a little monster than a toddling princess. This is because she is becoming aware of herself as a person, and is beginning to understand that when she wants something -- that certain behaviors can make it happen -- and fast. During this stage, you’ll find your little sweetie learning to use the word “me” or “mine” more often. This is because her world essentially revolves around those two words, and she's primarily concerned with how to keep herself happy.
Once your baby’s self-awareness has kicked into overdrive, you’ll begin to notice other emotions coming to the surface. One of those emotions is pride. When your toddler or preschooler completes a simple task and you clap your hands and call out, “Yay!” she'll smile, clap her hands and call out,“Yay!” right along with you. This sense of pride in her accomplishments will motivate her to do the task again. How you respond to your child when she is discovering that she can do things well will help her handle her emotions when she can't do things well. Toddlers are especially likely to have temper tantrums when they fail or when they don’t get their way, so be ready to redirect her attention to other activities when she is frustrated.
Shame is associated with self-awareness, which develops in your child at the same time she is discovering her sense of pride. You’ll see shame the first time your toddler drops her sippy cup and its lid falls off, sending milk flying all over the kitchen. She may drop her head or cover her eyes, especially if you raise your voice or say, “Oh no!” Remember that she understands the word, "No" and she may associate the accident with something bad, so it’s important to let her know that everything is OK -- especially if it really was an accident. Shame can turn quickly to frustration, and produce a tempter tantrum. Watch your child for cues that she is becoming overwhelmed so that you can avoid a total meltdown. Helping her use words to express strong emotions, even at this age, will help her the next time she feels shame and sadness.
Using Pride and Shame
There’s a fine line between using pride and shame to parent your child -- and shaming your child or making her so full of pride -- that other kids don't want to be around her. Your toddler should never feel that you are ashamed of her when she has an accident. Even though toddler and preschool accidents can be inconvenient, it’s important to remember that she is still learning how to navigate life. Leaving room for mistakes will decrease your stress and make her less likely to do something inappropriate to get your attention. Along with never using shame as a way to discipline, it’s important to teach at an early age that she should have pride in a job well done -- as long as you don’t go overboard. If you give your preschooler a treat every time she picks up her toys, pride in her accomplishment loses some of its value. The goal is to teach her to feel proud so that pride is its own reward.