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Beyond the basic emotions—happy, sad, mad, and scared—humans are capable of experiencing a second group of higher-order feelings, such as shame, embarrassment, guilt, envy, and pride. These higher-order feelings are referred to as “self-conscious emotions” because each one offers either damage to or enhancement of our sense of self. For example, pride reflects satisfaction in self-achievement. Shame-based emotions, on the other hand, result in a sense of withdrawal and feelings of dissatisfaction.

Self-conscious emotions first appear at about eighteen to twenty-four months of age, when a child becomes aware that he or she is a separate individual. Toddlers indicate feelings of shame and embarrassment by lowering their eyes, hanging their heads, and hiding their faces with their hands. Toddlers also show feelings of guilt and pride. Envy shows up at around age three.

As your toddler’s sense of self-awareness grows, he or she will need your instruction as to when feelings of pride, shame, or guilt are appropriate. For example, you will be providing early tutoring when you notice and say, “Look how far you threw that ball.” Parents can nurture the healthy development of pride in self-achievement and other self-conscious emotions.

When you help your child learn about higher-order feelings, you have an impact on their achievement-related, moral, and social behaviors. As a parent, you have an opportunity to model and set standards as your child develops a sense of self. Every day, you are a teacher to your child.

More to consider:

Lessons can be simple . . .

Let’s say you are getting ready for dinner and your child is helping you set the table. On the way to the table, your little one drops a spoon on the floor and responds with #@!!%. Rather than reacting with anger, you can ask, “Where did you learn that word?” because your child did learn it somewhere. Then you can ask your child what it means, and chances are he or she will not know. A simple response like “Using a word you don’t know can be embarrassing” is a little lesson involving self-conscious emotions.