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Shame Does Not Teach Children to Do Better

Shame Does Not Teach Children to Do Better

Why Parents May Want to Reconsider Shame as a Parenting Tactic

Have you seen the children in the “This is our get along shirt”? What about children with the signs:“Don’t trust me. I am a thief and will steal from you” Or the girl that was made to wear some thrift shop outfits to look like a girl she had been teasing?

Shaming and making a child feel badly about stealing, teasing, bullying and other missteps have become such an unfortunate trend in parenting. While it may give parents a sense that they are doing something and teaching their child a lesson, the lessons connected to feeling shame are most often far from helpful:

Shame can lead to a child feeling incapable, alone and discouraged – all which have the potential to lead to more negative behavior and unacceptable choices. As parents we should be building our children up, not tearing them down.

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
― Brené Brown

Shame and humiliation teach shame and humiliation. Children that bully and shame others have most typically experienced the same from a parent, caregiver or peer. Using shame to “teach” perpetuates the cycle of shame, humiliation and bullying.

Shame and humiliation lead to negative feelings of self-worth. Several different bodies of research* show that punishment (including shame tactics and spanking) will not lead to any long term results. On the contrary, it actually shows that over time, punishments can have negative impacts on a child’s esteem, confidence and overall well-being.

“Shame is not just one of the biggest causes of emotional problems; it’s also one of the biggest impediments to dealing with them. “ – David Leibow, M.D.

Shame breaks trust and respect between parents and children. For children to grow healthy and well, feeling mutual trust, respect and love is vital.

Shame does not help children learn positive values such as making amends, team work, cooperation or problem solving. A child that is forced to wear the “I steal-don’t trust me” t-shirt is not learning about not stealing or how to make amends or getting to the reasons behind the stealing.

parenting without shame

When parents make a conscious choice to avoid tactics that induce shame, guilt and hurt, when they choose not to use public signs, specific outfits or posting photos as punishments for “bad behavior” and instead search for positive alternatives, they can guide children into a direction of confidence and capability. Not only that, choosing positive and real-life alternatives to addressing problems, parents are modeling and teaching skills that lead to proper adjustment later in life.

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” Chinese Proverb

Every child in the process of growing will make mistakes. This is vital to the learning process. Instead of shaming or humiliating, if we make an effort to teach, involve and respect our children, in turn they may learn the true value behind their actions. The place that shame takes us is not a place where true learning can happen. 

Creative parenting solutions that are kind, helpful and truly life changing are abundant. Does it take some more effort, yes, it does. It takes getting to know our children, keeping an open dialogue, truly listening and tuning in, being present and ready to offer genuine encouragement. It’s about believing that our children are capable and deep down trusting that our children are good people that can do good things.

Discipline that supports responsible, healthy growth  isn’t about easy way outs, posting pictures for all to laugh and gawk at, demanding respect or lashing out in anger. The real aim of discipline can be to guide our children and help them return to a positive path if they lose their way.

What are some alternatives?

What about going together to the local soup kitchen, helping out at the local animal shelter, retirement home, organizing a clothing or book drive? How about writing a letter of apology and explaining the concept of making amends? Reading books with positive messages? Giving second chances? Asking children how they think the problem can be solved? What about taking time to teach skills like cleaning up messes, helping around the house? Raising funds for a charity? Getting children to meet with positive role models? Organizing a walk or race to raise awareness for a worthy cause? Having some one-on-one time every week to listen, really listen to what our children have to say? What about teaching empathy and kindness? What about simply treating our children the way we wish them to treat others?

 It’s beyond unfortunate to see so many people cheering on the shame and the humiliation that so many parents are freely dishing out.  We stand to gain so much as humanity if the mentality of “look who’s the boss now” parenting style would just fade away.   Parenting is not a walk in the park and none of us are perfect. I get that. Every morning when I look at my three kids I remember that. When my inbox is full of requests for help, I get that.  I also truly believe that modeling positive behavior is incredibly contagious…kindness begets kindness, respect brings about respect.  

Just imagine a world where parenting with hope, peace, respect and trust would be the norm, wouldn’t that be amazing? 

Peace & Be Well,