I know my child; something was up.

My daughter paced in and out of my bedroom while I worked at my desk.

At first, she needed a signature for school. A few minutes later, she asked about our schedule, and then she came in fidgeting and asked about dinner.

I turned my chair around to offer my undivided attention. In time, she sat down on the bed and said, “There’s something I need to tell you.” My daughter explained how she stumbled across something pornographic on the internet.

Even though she did nothing wrong, she felt ashamed and was afraid I’d be mad at her if she told me.

This is what shame does; it leads us to believe things are better left in the dark. I was proud of my daughter for pushing through shame’s lies to tell me.

While guilt signals to us that we did something bad, shame convinces us we are bad.

Guilt can help us grow and lead us to the cross. This conviction is God’s loving-kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). But shame leads us to isolation, much like Adam and Eve hid from God’s presence after they sinned (Gen. 3:8).

Before sin, the couple was naked and unashamed (Gen. 2:25). But the enemy can use shame in our lives whether we’ve sinned or not. Some wives feel shame about their husband’s porn addiction, convinced it’s their fault because they don’t measure up.

Parents can feel shame they didn’t put up enough guardrails for their kids or didn’t “see it coming.” We all know what shame feels like, which is why it’s essential to handle potentially shameful conversations with our children with care.

“There’s something I need to tell you” are seven little words containing a big invitation for parents to tread on holy ground.

Our reaction offers a red, yellow, or green light of safety for the next time our child wants to open up. If our response breeds condemnation, our child receives a red light; we can’t expect them to come to us in the future with actual or perceived wrongdoing.

If our reaction communicates conditional love, we give them a yellow light; they know we can handle some stuff, but not all of it.

When our response reflects God’s character and heart, we create a green light for present and future connection with our child. Moments of confession are moments of heart-holding. 

If we listen, these moments beg of us:

Handle with Care.

Be a Safe Place.

Leave no Room For Shame.

What does a green light connection look like? How do we navigate our own emotions through these conversations and handle their hearts with care? Here are some tips.

  • Thank your Child.

Thank your child for sharing with you. Thank them for trusting you. Honor them for their decision to bring everything into the light. Bringing darkness into the light is a big step; validate that. 

  • Stay Calm.

In my daughter’s instance, she didn’t do anything wrong, and I assured her of that. But maybe your child did do something wrong, and it’s tempting to get wrapped up in the emotion of it. Resist that temptation.

When our fight-or-flight kicks in, we end up saying things we don’t mean. Remember, this is holy ground, and your response will either create open doors for connection or slam them shut. 

  • Ask More Questions.

When our child opens up, they test the waters of our connection. They see how we respond to one pebble before they give us a handful.

Provide a space for them to get everything off their chest. We shouldn’t ask more questions just to get more information from them, but rather to hear their heart, discover the lessons they learned, and help them feel fully understood. 

  • Don’t jump to corrective strategies. 

When our mama bear instincts kick in, we want to jump to action. With the situation I shared about my daughter, I immediately wanted to jump into cyber-security mode.  But I decided to push pause to give the conversation the undivided focus it deserved.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, take time to calm down, pray, and talk to your spouse first before diving into “fix-it” mode. Let the holy ground of vulnerability remain a soft place to land. 

  • Watch Your Words.

We need to ensure our words align with the truth about guilt and shame. We can never resort to name-calling, identity-labeling, or any other passive-aggressive words that might communicate our child is bad.

They may have made a bad choice, but they aren’t bad. They may have made a mistake, but they are not a mistake. We need to take it a step further and validate who they are because shame buries our true selves. Use your words to call out the best in your child. 

  • Pray for and with Your Child.

Take the opportunity to pray for and with your child. You may lead them in a prayer of repentance, or a prayer of protection and blessing, or both. Remind them that Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 

  • Draw Closer.

Shame tempts us to withdraw from God and others. The more we hide, the harder it is to be known; but we have to be known to connect. Combating shame means drawing closer to our child during and after moments of confession rather than further away.

We like to say, “time-in rather than time-out.” Show your child affection, schedule one-on-one time of connection, and follow up with times of intentional, active listening and attention. 

In the holy ground moments of our child’s confession, taking these steps will help eradicate shame, build a stronger connection, and keep a green light of safety for future conversations.

Let’s hold our children’s hearts with care, guiding them gently into the Father’s love and grace.