CALM Parenting: Letting Go of Shoulds and Shame



Welcome back to our series on CALM Parenting.


Just to quickly review: CALM’s goal is to increase calm and connection for kids and families in a stressed-out overwhelming world.


What is CALM Parenting and what does it stand for? Each letter describes an important piece of the model:


C- Create peace inside and out

A – Allow for Authentic Success

L – Let go of “shoulds” and shame

M – Make strides toward independence


The CALM Parenting Model brings less stress and more peace at home, in school and in the community.


Over the next few weeks, our newsletter will focus on CALM and offer tips and ideas on how to implement the model at home with your family. Whether your child has special needs or not, this model will support you in being positively engaged and connected with your children and significantly lessen the conflict in your home.


To read our previous articles, click on the links below.

C-Creating Peace Inside and  Out

A- Allowing for Authentic Success

Let’s continue exploring CALM Parenting with L-Letting Go of Shoulds and Shame


Warning: This article may be hard for some parents to read. None of us want to shame our children. We love them and want what is best for them. We see ourselves as their advocates and supporters and we would never intentionally hurt their sense of self of self-esteem.


That said, we parents need to get our acts together. We need to let go of shoulds and shame in our parenting toolbox.


Let’s start by exploring all of our “shoulds” that we impose on our children.

What is a “should”?

A should is something we expect our children to do because they “should” be able to do it by their age or level of education. Shoulds sound like this:


  • He’s 12. He should be able to clean his room independently.
  • As a high school sophomore, she should be able to keep her backpack organized.
  • When I ask him to do something, he should be able to get started immediately.
  • With the ADHD medication, she should be more focused in school.


Do any of those sound familiar? They do to me. I default to shoulds in my parenting, too.


The problem with shoulds is they are judgemental and arbitrary. Not all children develop along the same timeline. While one 12 year old could have a neat room, another may not be able to see the floor due to their clutter. Neither is good, nor bad, but when we have shoulds and random expectations based on shoulds we set up a dynamic where we as parents are frustrated and annoyed that our children are not living up to what we think they should be able to do.


This leads us to shame.

When our kids aren’t meeting our expectations and our frustration rises, we resort to shame and say things like,


  • “Why can’t you keep your room clean? It’s a pig sty! You should be able to do this at your age.”
  • “Holy moly, your backpack is a mess! Clean this up and get organized. What is wrong with you?”
  • “I’m frustrated you can’t get ready on time. This stress every morning is because you can’t focus and you make everyone late.”
  • “If you don’t clean up this mess you’re grounded until further notice and you’ll sit in your room until it’s up to my standards. This isn’t hard. You’re just being stubborn.”


Shame usually starts from parental frustration that previous attempts to support your child to improve their functioning haven’t worked. The “nice” approach with counseling, tutoring, support, reminders and all the tools experts have given you still don’t result in a kid who can function independently. So rather than go high, we go low and try to shame our kids into compliance.


The problem is 99% of the time, if your child could be organized and on time they would. No kid wants to hear the disappointment, nagging and shaming comments of their parents. Telling your child that their failures are essentially their fault isn’t going to get them up and doing everything you want. In fact, the opposite will happen. When we are shamed we shut down and want to hide physically and emotionally. Self-esteem plummets. Efforts to do better stop. Our children get the message that trying doesn’t count unless mom and dad get the perfect outcome they want, so why try?


Shoulds and shame have no place in our parenting, no matter if our children have disabilities or not. So we need to let those tools go from our parenting repertoire.


Since many of us were raised with shoulds and shame ourselves, we need to retrain our thinking about what parenting is and how we want to engage with our children in more positive ways.


Often when I talk to parents about limiting shoulds and shame they ask me, “Well if we have no expectations, how do they grow and improve?”


Abandoning shoulds and shame does not mean you never expect anything of your child. Of course they should be able to clean their room and organize their homework to the best of their ability.  However, they need support and scaffolding and recognition of their efforts as they work on these difficult tasks.


Here are a few tips on how to parent and let go of shoulds and shame:


  • Assume your child is doing the best they can. No child wants to get negative feedback and will try to please adults.
  • Understand and admit that the things that are hard for your child are most likely due to their learning disability. Denial of your child’s disabilities serves no one well.
  • Temper your expectations of ideal outcomes and settle for “good enough.” A bedroom with clothes on the floor but no food wrappers is “good enough,” for a time. Your child will learn to pick up the clothes eventually.
  • Practice patience. Your child’s developmental timeline isn’t the same as their peers. They will achieve milestones eventually if you give them space and time to grow.
  • Catch yourself when you are talking about “shoulds.” There is no child development handbook that says anyone should be able to do anything by a certain age.
  • Notice and validate progress. For example, if your child struggles to pass in homework but improved in getting in 2 more assignments than usual this week, praise that. Don’t focus on the 5 other missing assignments. Positive reinforcement leads to positive behavior. Negative reinforcement results in the opposite outcome.
  • Vent your frustrations to understanding adults out of earshot of your kids. The process of supporting a child with learning difficulties is hard and you will absolutely get fed up, anxious and even angry that your child isn’t developmentally similar to their peers. Talk to your co-parent, friend, trusted family member, therapist, etc. about these feelings.  
  • Celebrate the things your child is good at. Over focusing on what they can’t do well isn’t a recipe for lifelong success. Never take away an activity they are good at and enjoy as a consequence for not meeting your shoulds.
  • Protect your child’s self-esteem. It’s fragile. Their self-esteem is what is going to propel them to continue to work on things that are hard for them and succeed at things they are good at.
  • Finally, don’t sweat the small stuff. If your child is healthy, relatively happy, has a balanced life and functions well in many ways, celebrate. Everything else is a minor problem.


Letting go of shoulds and shame takes some effort and practice. It is totally worth the work as the outcome is CALM and a more supportive, loving relationship with your child.