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Parenting: This Guilt-Regret-Scale Saves Kids from Extreme Pain

By Jean Tracy, MSS

Do you hate the painful feelings of extreme guilt? Do you want to protect your children from them? Today I'll share the strategy for moving your child from painful guilt to healthy regret.

"A man can stand a lot as long as he can stand himself." ~ Axel Munthe

When our children do wrong, we want them to feel regret and to fix it.

Ask your kids to imagine a girl named Sophia who broke her mother's favorite crystal vase. She blamed her little brother. His mother believed her and scolded her brother who cried torrents of tears. The little brother denied it but was sent to bed early.

The next day Sophia went to school without telling her mother the truth. Her eyes filled with tears during math. She couldn't handle her guilt. Her teacher asked her what was wrong. She wiped her eyes and said, "Nothing."

Ask These Questions About Sophia:


1. How is Sophia hurting herself? Why?
2. How can Sophia help herself?
3. What advice would you give Sophia? Why?

If Sophia had learned the strategy, which I'm about to tell you, she could have faced her problem and told the truth.

The Guilt to Regret Scale:

Draw a "zero to ten point" scale. At the zero end of the scale, write "No Guilt." From numbers four to seven write "Regret." At the numbers eight to ten, write "Extreme Guilt."

0----1-----2------3------4--------5-------6--------7-------8------9-----10


No Guilt = 0
Regret = 4-7
Extreme Guilt = 8-10


"No guilt" lacks a conscience. "Extreme guilt" suffers intensely but the suffering doesn't always stop the wrong behavior. The sufferer feels horrible about herself. Her self-esteem drowns in emotional pain.

Regret is balanced. When we do wrong, we need the healthy nudge of regret. With regret we are willing to repair the damage caused by our actions

Parenting Exercise for Changing Extreme Guilt to Regret in Kids:

Show your child the guilt scale. Tell her the goal is to bring her guilt down from the 8-10 range to the 4-7 range.

Ask, "Where is your guilt on the 0 – 10 scale right now?" (It should be high.)

Say to your child to, "Think about what you did that makes you feel so guilty. Close your eyes. Feel the guilt. Then bring that guilty feeling down to the 4-7 range."

Wait a bit to give your child time to do it. Then say, "When you've reached the regret range, open your eyes."

Ask your child, "Where is your number on the guilt scale now?" (It should have moved downward.)

Then ask, "How did you do it?"

Some kids may say, "I don't know." If so, say, "Guess."

Typically, your child brought the number down by changing her thoughts because extreme negative feelings come from extreme negative thoughts. Tell your child to use this special scale whenever her troublesome feelings are too painful.

Conclusion for Changing Extreme Guilt to Regret in Kids

Extreme guilt is painful and unnecessary. It paralyzes our children. They hide the problem and suffer. Extreme guilt won't help them admit what they did and what to do better. It makes them feel terrible about themselves.

Teach the Guilt to Regret Scale. It will help your child admit the problem she caused and find a solution. Tell her to use this scale whenever she needs it.

Grown-ups can use it too because this strategy is for everybody!

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