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The Effects of Play in a Negative Environment

Playing with your child is an important part of their psychological development. Studies have proven that playing with your child in a positive environment can help them develop the skill to interact with others. They are learning to feel secure and engaged. It will also help shape their behaviour and relationship with others as an adult.

What is a positive environment?

A positive environment is where a parent and child play, with no expectations. In other words, taking a simple game as building blocks: the child and parent will try to build a tower, the child suddenly places a piece on top that results in the tower collapsing – the child will wait for the adult’s response. If the adult playfully laughs and encourages rebuilding, it is a positive environment; however, if the adult gets frustrated and reacts in a less than playful way, the child may feel shame.

But what is shame? Shame can be developed at a very young age, I would even say as early as only months old. Shame is first experienced with parents and/or other close connections. A good example of how shame can develop in childhood is taken from an article by Broucek, ‘Shame: early development issues’ that I read a few years ago. Broucek describes a study done where a mother was trying to teach her child to place a donut-like shaped object onto a small pole. The mother was very supportive when the infant was performing well; she used encouraging words and praise. When the infant failed (missed the pole) the parent went from praising to disappointment - making it clear that she was not happy with the results. The child’s previous state of content from receiving such positive feedback from its mother vanished and in its place came shame. The child’s body language and attitude there after was the opposite from the initial starting of the game. He slouched and became aggressive throwing the donut-like shaped object across the room in utter frustration of being wrong and not knowing what was truly happening. The article was a great example of where shame is first formulated; the feeling of being ‘rejected’ by your caregiver as well as disappointing yourself.

A child relies on its parent to provide reassurance and love. When the parent takes away one or both of these needs, the child is left with an uncomfortable void of self.

So what is the difference between Shame and Guilt?

Although shame is an emotion that is closely related to guilt, it is important to understand the differences. The difference between the two: "We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are." Shame is often a much stronger and more profound emotion than guilt. Shame is when we feel disappointed about something inside of us, our basic nature. Both shame and guilt can have intensive implications for our perceptions of self and our behavior toward other people, particularly in situations of conflict.

Shame is often heightened in a learning environment. Knowledge plays a key role as it is naturally part of our own growth and development. The complex of being labeled as ‘stupid’ or a ‘disappointment’ in oneself is a definite impact on our self image as was shown in the mother and child case study.

With saying that, it does not mean a one single moment of shame as a child will impact you entirely, it all depends on your already development of self. If your own view on self is strong, then the moment of shame becomes tolerable and not impactful overall.

Just remember to play in a positive environment with your child, encourage them and be present - after all, that is all we can do as parents.

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