The act of shaming a child is a sensitive subject. Not only is it difficult to detect, it’s sometimes even harder for a parent to realize that their choice of discipline may in fact be an unintentional act of making their child feel inadequate.
Surely, we don’t mean to belittle our children, but something as simple as saying, “You are naughty,” is enough to make a child feel less than, and it’s more detrimental to their growth than we may realize.
Other examples of shaming comments would be, “You never listen.” “You are a handful.” “Stop that complaining.” And so on.
Although intentions seem clear and harmless — to simply end a negative behavior — when communicating these words to a child or declaring them as “bad,” we are actually speaking negatively about the child, not the behavior that we are trying to discipline.
When a child is shamed, they don’t feel good enough. They can feel small, scared or alone, and they are usually lacking the explanation of why they are left feeling this way. This can make the child even more defensive or defiant, feeling the need to protect themselves.
But we don’t mean this for our children! We are positive parents with positive intentions, and we want to teach empathy, not take it away.
Being mindful of how we use our words is exactly where to start. When we speak positively, even in times of discipline, we build trust, and the child yearns for our guidance instead of turning away from it.
When we take care not to shame a child, we also are modeling the kind of behavior we would expect from them. And this goes for the way we treat everyone around us, too, not just the child. For example, how do you speak to your partner or the adults in your life? Do you flippantly or even jokingly shame them for something they said or did? Again, the act of shaming is difficult to realize, but if we pay mind to the words we use, we may be surprised how easily we are putting others down, and children notice.
Speak with empathy, not entitlement. Who are we to judge anyone? In times of bad behavior, it is NOT always easy to speak calmly and fairly. I’ve had to stop myself so many times from pronouncing my child as naughty! But he doesn’t deserve to FEEL like he’s bad — he simply needs to understand that his behavior can be improved and, with my guidance, he is capable of turning that behavior around.
And I am capable of treating my son — and everyone around me — with the respect they deserve.
About the Author
Angela Tewalt is a writer and mother to two boys. She shares parenting stories and Montessori inspiration in Guidepost Parent.
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