The Toxic Effects Of Shaming Children

Shaming a child, whether by accident or on purpose has long been used as a discipline method to control or modify their behavior. While this has in the past been kept in within the home, more and more parents are now using technology to shame their children on social media for all to see. 

Using shame as a disciple technique can often seem like a “successful” method of changing a child’s behavior quickly, as it usually makes them try “harder” to please their parents. However in both the short and long term shame can have a drastic effect on your child’s mood, behavior, and even their relationship to you. 

What is Shaming? 

When it comes to defining shame, it can take several forms and you may not even realize you’re doing it. The first, as mentioned, is posting the shaming straight to social media for the world to see.

Perhaps the harshest form as people your child doesn’t even know are now laughing at their expense, this method is intended to maximize the amount of shame to manipulate and cause a drastic change in their behavior. 

Another way is making your child feel bad about themselves as a person in general instead of focusing on the behavior you’re wanting to change. Phrases often heard like “stop acting like a baby” aren’t actually focusing on the problem behavior of your child, instead the message they hear is that they’re bad altogether. 

Is Guilt the same as Shame? 

What can sometimes be difficult for parents is telling the difference between guilt and shame. Author of New York Times best-seller Dearing Greatly, Brené Brown describes the simple but small difference between these emotions.

While guilt says “I did a bad thing”, shame says “I am bad”. While both can change a child’s behavior, shame will have a much larger negative effect on them. 

It’s also hard to sometimes tell the difference between criticism and shaming. Questioning your child’s fashion choices or comparing their school grades with a sibling or friend may seem like simple criticism to many parents, designed to encourage change through slightly harsh language.

But for many kids, this type of language can have a huge impact on their self-esteem and confidence. 

When a child is repeatedly told something negative about themselves, they will very quickly internalize it. As adults, we can pass off comments about our looks or actions as we have more experience in how to handle these feelings.

Children don’t yet have this perspective and so their feelings of shame and distress are magnified.

The Toxic Effects

Shame can have far-reaching repercussions on your child’s behavior and mental health, and it can even affect them long into adulthood. The internalized message that they are “bad” or “naughty” can manifest in adulthood through anxiety and depression.

While a person may wish to succeed in their life, be it through jobs, relationships or hobbies, they may be held back by the inner voice of shame telling them they aren’t good enough to even bother trying. 

For both children and adults the effects of shame can manifest in a lack of physical and self-expression. Not wanting to socialize with others for fear of judgment, and often stopping doing the things they love for the same reason, shame can lead to a very isolating exitance.

Shaming, if done enough can become completely ingrained in a child and form part of their identity, which can cause damaging consequences in later life. 

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence has found a link between this early behavior as a result of shame, and more violent behavior in teens and adults. It also has a huge negative impact on the person’s ability to form relationships.

Author of The Psychology of Shame Gershen Kaufman also found a link between early shaming as a child and the development of addictive disorders and eating disorders into adulthood. 

Rather than motivating a child to change and better themselves, it makes them feel like they aren’t capable of doing that. Hearing from an adult held in trust and power that they aren’t good enough can be extremely hurtful, especially to a younger child. 

Understand Why You’re Shaming 

Before you’re about to shame your child, even in a heated moment, try to take a step back and ask yourself why, and what behavior you’re about to criticize. This is a great method to remove shaming from your life. 

Ask yourself at this moment if it’s actually something they can change, and if it’s even important if they do. An example is shaming them for their outfit. Does it really matter what they’re wearing? Is it just not to your taste?

Catching yourself in these moments will enable you to change your own behavior and lead you to use better and more constructive discipline and communication methods. 

How To Influence Your Child’s Behavior without Shaming?

There are so many successful tactics of calmly disciplining your child without shaming them, and these come with the added plus of teaching them what they did wrong at the same time. 

The best way is a simple conversation with your child about what they did wrong rather than 10 minutes of shouting with no outcome. Its important to avoid phrases that berate your child without explaining to them what they did wrong, or they’ll just think they’re a bad person in general and won’t learn from their mistakes. 

Instead, ask them what happened and why they chose to act how they did. This gives your child a chance to explain themselves and their feelings and find the source of what went wrong.

Also, by helping them identify their feelings during the outburst, you’re teaching them about emotional intelligence and how to handle the same feelings in the future. 

Asking them what they could have done differently in the situation is also useful as it shows them that there can be many different alternative actions to the one they picked, helping them make better choices next time. 

To solidify the lesson ask them what they’ll do next time. Hearing it in their own words helps the child remember the lesson and makes them feel more independent by explaining how they’ll be better next time. 

What To Do if You’ve Accidentally Shamed your Child

Being a parent is sometimes a hard and emotionally draining experience, and so in a fit of anger or exhaustion, you may have shamed your child for their behavior.

If you’ve found yourself saying things like “why do I bother with you?” or “are you that stupid?” when your child just won’t listen then you’re not alone. 

The most important thing to do is sincerely apologize for your actions, it will make your child see that you’re only human and you’re willing to own up to your mistakes.

Communicating clearly your own emotions, why you felt that way, and that it won’t happen again is also a vital part of your apology. Being remorseful of your own actions will restore some of the trust your child lost during the shaming process, and ultimately make the relationship stronger.