7 Reasons You May Want To Re-Think Shaming Your Child with a Bad Haircut

little boy getting haircut
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A barbershop in Georgia made national headlines when they began offering free haircuts to shame misbehaving kids. Some called it the “old man haircut,” and others referred to it as the “Benjamin Button Special.” The haircut, meant to "teach kids a lesson," involves shaving the tops of their heads so they look as if they're balding men.

Clearly, sending a child to elementary school looking like George Jefferson sends a clear message.

But, shaming your child on purpose may backfire. If you’re thinking of addressing misbehavior with an embarrassing haircut, here are seven reasons why you may want to rethink that option:

1. Public humiliation may lead to other problems. Sending your child to school with a ridiculous haircut is likely to invite public ridicule from peers. Bullying is a major problem for young people these days and trying to embarrass your child on purpose may cause him to get picked on by other students. Unfortunately, many kids develop psychological issues, social problems, and educational issues as a result of bullying.

2. Kids who feel bad about themselves are more likely to get into trouble. Research shows that children exposed to shame-based discipline are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol and they’re more likely to have legal problems during adolescence. They’re also less likely to practice safe sex.

It’s important to use discipline techniques that preserve a healthy self-esteem to ward off future behavior problems.

Send the message that says, "Your behavior is bad," rather than, "You're bad." A child who feels good about himself is more likely to be motivated to follow the rules. He'll also have more confidence in his ability to ward off peer pressure and he'll want to make healthy choices.

3. Shaming kids reduces their empathy for others. Research shows that children who are shamed by caregivers tend to blame others for their problems and they have less empathy for those around them. They also tend to experience increased hostility and anger and they’re more likely to behave aggressively. Children who are shamed and ridiculed by their parents are more likely to treat other children in a similar fashion.

4. Shame affects mental health. Children who are shamed are at-risk of developing psychological issues. Research has linked shame-based discipline with low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety disorders. They’re also more likely to develop eating disorder symptoms, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal ideation.

5. Shame doesn’t teach morality. Giving your child a ridiculous haircut won’t teach him right from wrong. In fact, kids who feel shame tend to blame others for their behavior, rather than take responsibility or learn to develop a healthy sense of morality.

Unlike shame, guilt can teach children morality. Expressing disappointment in a child’s behavior can lead to guilt -  which can be a healthy response to hurting others or breaking rules. Rather than embarrassing a child on purpose, make it clear that you disapprove and offer a logical consequence.

6. Shaming your child will damage your relationship. Children are most motivated to listen to adults who treat them with respect. When you publicly humiliate a child, the chances of him wanting to talk to you about problems or issues going on in his life are greatly reduced. You’ll lose trust and credibility and may inadvertently push your child away.

7. There are effective means of discipline that don't involve shame. Children certainly need discipline to help them learn from their mistakes. There are many discipline techniques that are much more effective than public shaming. Token economy systems, reward programs, and taking away privileges can be extremely effective when they're used consistently. These techniques have shown incredible effectiveness in children with a wide range of behavior problems.

If you’re at a loss for how to deal with behavior problems, seek professional help. Sometimes, behavior disorders like ADHD or ODD may contribute to misbehavior and treatment could greatly reduce symptoms. At other times, children lack basic skills, like problem-solving or impulse control. A mental health professional could work with you to teach your child how to manage his behavior. behavior.


Ashby JS, Rice KG, Martin JL. Perfectionism, shame, and depressive symptoms. Journal of Counseling & Development. 2006;84(2):148–156.

Bennett DS, Sullivan MW, Lewis M. Young children’s adjustment as a function of maltreatment, shame, and anger. Child Maltreatment. 2005;10(4):311–323

Stuewig J, McCloskey L. The impact of maltreatment on adolescent shame and guilt: psychological routes to depression and delinquency. Child Maltreatment. 2005;10:324–336. 

Tangney, J. P., Stuewig, J., & Mashek, D. J. (2007). Moral Emotions and Moral Behavior. Annual Review of Psychology58, 345–372.

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