Parenting: Overcoming Shame and Becoming Vulnerable to Help Your Struggling Child or Teen

As the parent of a child who often acts before thinking, I’ve personally experienced the stares, the eye-rolls, and the smirks that covertly say, “Can’t you control your child better than that?”  I’ve heard the seemingly caring, but back-handed prayer requests for a friend’s daughter, “Oh, that poor teenage girl is pregnant…I would have thought her parents would have taught her better…please pray for her and especially pray for her family.” Some days, it seems that “shaming parents” is a local sport.


Over the past 20 years, I’ve also seen the look of shame come over the faces of hundreds of parents as they tell me about how their child or teen got in trouble again for being stubborn, willful, or bossy, getting distracted, not finishing tasks, making careless mistakes, disorganization, being overly active, or acting without thinking.  If this is you, read on my fellow-struggler.

Parents of children and teens with determined temperaments and/or executive functioning challenges often needlessly and silently suffer shame – we constantly think “I’m a bad parent because my child is impulsive, highly distracted, and has a hard time being successful in school.”  In turn, this shame keeps many parents from being vulnerable enough to step-out, show up, and seek out the help their child desperately needs.  This cycle can quickly snowball into more and more shame and less and less improvement.  We need to stop this downward spiral!

Understand the Shame and Vulnerability Connection and Its Source

In her book Daring Greatly, University of Houston shame and vulnerability expert Brene Brown, Ph.D. calls parenting “a shame and judgment minefield.”  Her assessment is especially true for those of us who are raising children and teens struggling with executive functioning challenges.

Society tells us that we must be the “perfect parent” whose “perfect kids” are potty-trained by 2, never throw a temper-tantrum when it’s time to leave the park, never talk-back, and always obey our commands in 5 seconds or less.  Society is wrong! The truth is there is no such thing as “the perfect parent” or “the perfect kid” because we and our kids are all human, and we have very little control over our own much less our child’s temperament.

Understand What You Can Control

We do have control over our parenting style: The way we parent our struggling child is the filter that can transform her failures into successes.  Dr. Brene Brown says that we have powerful parenting opportunities in many areas: “how we help our children understand, leverage, and appreciate their hardwiring, and how we teach them resilience in the face of relentless ‘never enough’ cultural messages.”


Brene reminds us, “Compassion and connection – the very things that give purpose and meaning to our lives – can only be learned if they are experienced.”  At home, we are on the front line of providing our children true compassion and connection.  It takes courage to raise courageous children.

Dr. Brown goes on to say that worthiness should not have prerequisites.  In other words, our children are worthy because they are our children regardless of their executive skill challenges.  Our child’s thoughts and feelings of worthiness – of being enough – begins with us: our acts of vulnerability – our courage to “show-up”, love, and take steps to help our child when he is too distracted and too hyperactive to sit on the potty for more than two seconds, when she is in the middle of a major temper-tantrum in the middle of a busy mall, when the principal calls us about his impulsive behavior for the 15th time today, or when our teen shares that she is pregnant – our responses shape who our child is and who she becomes.  It’s time for us to stop listening to society’s impossible demands for perfection and start standing up for our loved ones! 

So, how do we parents of children with executive functioning problems overcome “parenting shame,” develop “parenting resilience.” and become vulnerable in order to help our struggling child?  It’s not easy and it’s an everyday adventure.  Despite its many twist and turns, the results of this adventure last a life-time: our child’s life will be forever changed for the better.

Understand that Your Child’s Temperament and Executive Functioning Challenges are NOT  a
Sign of Poor Parenting or a Moral Failing

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