Parental shame and guilt: Distinguishing emotional responses to a child's wrongdoings

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Abstract

This research differentiates shame and guilt as distinct emotional reactions that parents in the United States can have for their children's misdeeds. In Study 1, when 93 parents wrote about their child's worst transgression, their ratings of perceived public exposure and threat to their self-image predicted shame, whereas the degree to which they felt a lack of control over their child and believed the act harmed others predicted guilt. In Study 2, when 123 mothers rated their reactions to an imagined wrongdoing, the presence of a critical observer tended to elevate shame but not guilt. Across both studies, guilt predicted adaptive parenting responses, whereas, shame predicted maladaptive responses. The discussion emphasizes the implications that self-conscious emotions have for family dynamics.

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