Kristin Maher, wife of Christian contemporary music artist Matt Maher, has written a children’s book to help kids overcome feelings of shame and other negative emotions.
Maher says shame is a topic that parents should not avoid talking to their children about, especially at a time when feelings of anxiety and depression are affecting 17 million children in the United States, according to the Child Mind Institute.
In her book, The Awfulizer: Learning to Overcome the Shame Game — which is also the first release for the National Center for Youth Issues‘ Truth Tellers series — Maher aims to equip children to handle negative feelings before they take root and follow them into adulthood.
The book will be released on Aug. 22 when many children will already be back at school and others will be preparing to start a new year.
The Awfulizer tells the story of “8-year-old James and the first time he met The Awfulizer—a monster that it seemed only he could see, who appears to remind him of his bad or embarrassing behavior. The more James listens to The Awfulizer, the worse he feels about himself; the monster grows larger and the greater the effects of shame become. Noticing a change in their child’s behavior, James’ parents sit him down to talk about what’s been bothering him, and James finds freedom and comfort in opening up about the feelings he’s experiencing. His parents give him tools to fight the negative feelings of shame—‘superpowers’ that turn him into The Awesomizer,” the book’s synopsis reads.
The following is an edited transcript of The Christian Post’s interview with Maher, a mother of three, who offers advice to parents and caregivers on helping children through the darkness of shame so they can regain their confidence.
Christian Post: Topics of shame and depression can be pretty heavy topics to present to children. Where did the inspiration for The Awfulizer come from?
Maher: I started this book when I had been in therapy myself for shame for over a year. I saw one of my kids starting to develop some shame talk and behavior. I went looking for resources on how to talk to him about shame and explain it to him. As adults, there are so many great tools right now to learn about shame, but I couldn’t seem to find anything for my child. I decided to try and take what I had been learning in therapy and write a story about shame.
I know that so much of my past was shaped by shame, and I couldn’t help but think how much different it could have been if I had only known then what I know now. I feel like equipping our children with tools to combat shame early on is very important. It can potentially give them a huge advantage in today’s world.
As a parent, I see how different the world is for my kids than it was for me. Now you can be shamed not only by people you know, but by the world. There are no reprieves from bullying, it follows you home at night. And it is no longer just people you know, but complete strangers as well. Having a strong understanding of shame and how it may affect you, and also how it affects others, can hopefully free them from their lives being dominated by those feelings.
CP: What are some takeaways you believe children and parents will get from reading The Awfulizer?
Maher: I hope the biggest takeaway is that they are not alone in feeling shame or in questioning their self-worth. Everyone has felt that way at some point in their lives.
I also hope it frees both parents and children to talk about the feelings they are having. Shame is fueled by isolation and secrecy. If we create a home environment where our kids feel safe to talk about their feelings, and also learn how to talk about their feelings, then we take that fuel away.
CP: As a mother, what advice would you offer parents on speaking to their children about mental health and having confidence?
Maher: I think honesty is the most important thing. I am very upfront with my children now about the fact that I see a counselor and go to group therapy. They know it is a safe place that mommy goes to to talk about her feelings and work on her heart. I want to normalize the idea of talking with others about your struggles and emotions.
Honesty also comes in the form of apologies when I know I have lashed out or reacted poorly because of lack of sleep, loss of patience or just feeling overwhelmed. My kids understand, and again I think it normalizes the idea that we make mistakes or misbehave. There is no shame in making mistakes, you simply need to recognize what you did, apologize, and move forward.
The only other advice I would have is to not give up. Sometimes my kids are receptive to talking about their feelings or heavy subject matter, and sometimes they are not. By continuing to bring the subject matter up it gives them the ability to choose the time they feel most comfortable talking. It also shows them that their feelings matter to me and that I really do want to know their thoughts.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jeannie Law