Why You Should Think Hard Before Shaming Children

“Why are you crying? It’s not that bad” or “You’re such a bad girl” are examples of shaming that we tell our kids, which we really don’t mean but say too much anyway. The problem is shaming our children like this never works in the long run. Yes, it gets their attention, but there could be some serious and lingering impact on the parent-child relationship. 

What is Shaming?

Shaming is not only telling embarrassing or revealing stories to manipulate the child’s behavior, but also taking what should be a private conversation about behavior and consequences and making it public by sharing it with your family, friends, or sometimes the world at large through social media. It can also be intentionally making a child feel bad about himself as a person instead of focusing on the actual behavior you’re trying to change.

Why Shaming Your Kids Doesn’t Work?

Shaming kids is also dangerous because shame tends to be a feeling that sticks around, and it often lasts longer than you realize or intend. Here are some reasons why shaming kids doesn’t work:

  • It fails to help kids internalize values and lessons. Shaping kids kill their capacity to act from internalized values and instead fires up their desire to simply stay out of trouble. They might do the right thing, but internally there’s no connection between their behavior and doing the “right” thing.
  • It fails to teach empathy. Empathy is the cornerstone of healthy relationships and emotional intelligence. It requires that children look outside to see what other people might be experiencing. Still, shame consumes their attention and turns it inward on themselves and their deficiencies.
  • It can encourage socially unacceptable behavior. It causes kids to feel small and powerless.
  • It models poor problem-solving. Shaming models dysfunctional ways to deal with problems. It teaches kids that it’s okay to be critical, judgmental, and righteous when someone gets it wrong.
  • It encourages lies and secrecy. If telling the truth about a less than glorious moment will expose them to shame, this can be enough reason to avoid the fact at all costs.
  • It fails to encourage ownership of behavior. Shame is more likely to promote denial because owning it would confirm the message of being less than.

What Should We Do Instead?

Focus on the behavior and not the person. 

All kids will do things that will leave us baffled, angry, or frustrated. Rather than commenting about them or who they are, talk about what they’ve done. We should teach our kids with patience, love, and guidance.

Expand their emotional literacy. 

There is nothing wrong with them seeing you feeling angry, upset, or frustrated in response to their behavior, provided you make it about their behavior and not about them. You can say, “I’m upset that you lied to me, and I’m confused about why you thought you had to.” 

Be the person you want them to be.

They watch everything we do, and what they see in our unguarded moments is powerful. There is no greater way to influence them than to be the person we want them to be and respond to them the way we want them to react to the world.

Be open to what they do that is a normal part of their growth.

Children are curious and self-centered. They were built that way to give them what they needed to explore the world and what it all meant for them. Teenagers might be hostile or indifferent to our influence and appear to deliberately push against us. This gives them what they need to let go of us enough to extend into the world, experiment with it, and find their own independent place.

Understand the need that is being met.

Kids react for a reason – there is always something going on. Try to understand the need they are trying to meet through their behavior. There will always be one.

We do best as parents when we take the time to understand why our children do what they do and find collaborative and supportive ways to help them make safe, kind, and healthy choices. As parents, we have power in our words, and as much as we can, we need to use that for the betterment of our children.


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