Why Shame Isn't an Effective Discipline Strategy

shaming children
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Over the past few years, public humiliation has become a common form of discipline. And it's not just being used with kids. There have been judges who have sentenced adults to stand on the street holding signs that list their violations.

Many parents are using this strategy to try and "teach kids a lesson." There have been stories of teens holding standing on street corners holding signs declaring anything from, "I steal," to "I drink alcohol," so they can publicly announce their bad choices.

There are also stories of parents using the internet to publicly shame children. In 2013, an Australian mother made headlines when she sold her daughter's concert tickets on eBay. In the item's description, she included a shaming message explaining that although the tickets had been a birthday gift to her daughter, she was now selling them because of her daughter's misbehavior. She even describes her daughter's transgressions in detail - ranging from being "lippy" to lying about her whereabouts - in great detail.

Public humiliation is just one form of discipline that shames kids. Other shaming methods aren't new - Corporal punishment for example, another common way parents try to shame children into behaving better. Sometimes shaming is more subtle – saying things like, “You’re such a brat,” or “Stop acting like a baby.” These verbal attacks attempt to shame a child into changing his behavior.

Shaming children, however, isn’t effective. In fact, it can be downright destructive. Saying and doing things that shame your child aren’t likely to improve his behavior.

Shaming Damages a Child’s Self-Image

A child who is frequently told, “You’re a bad boy,” isn’t likely to feel good about himself. And kids who suffer from low self-esteem aren’t usually motivated to follow the rules.

In fact, low self-esteem often leads to even more misbehavior.

A child who believes he’s “bad” will likely live up to that reputation. If he’s constantly told he’s naughty and he’s labelled as a “troublemaker,” he’s much more likely to keep breaking the rules.

Shaming Doesn’t Teach Skills

Spankings, insults, or attempts to make a child feel guilty about misbehavior doesn’t teach him to behave better next time. If a child has to stand outside holding a sign saying, “I steal,” he won’t have learned to handle his impulses better in the future. A child who receives a spanking for hitting his brother won't have learned how to regulate his emotions.

Discipline should be about teaching, not about trying to make a child feel bad about himself. Healthy discipline teaches kids how to improve their behavior in the future. Logical consequences, like taking away privileges, can be much more effective.

Read More: How to Teach Your Child Problem-Solving Skills

Shaming Reduces Empathy

Shaming causes kids to feel bad about themselves, which leads to reduced empathy.

I child with low self-esteem who has been subjected to shaming, isn’t likely to think about how his behavior affects other people. Instead, he’s more likely to be thinking about himself and how to escape his feelings of shame.

Shame doesn’t send a good message to kids about their relationships. Instead, it sends the message, “People who love you will try to shame you into behaving differently.” This message can cause kids to isolate themselves or to try and mask their shame. It can take a serious toll on a child’s ability to relate to peers.

Alternatives to Shaming

There are plenty of ways to discipline children without shaming them. For example, instead of forcing a child to hold a sign that lists all of his transgressions, why not have him do some community service? By participating in a healthy, positive activity – like cleaning up a park or assisting a charity – he can feel good about the work he’s doing.

Taking away privileges is another way to discipline a child without shaming him. Simply say, “You’ve lost your electronics for the rest of day,” and avoid saying things like, “You’re always so naughty.” Look for discipline strategies that will teach your child to make healthier choices instead of punishments that will simply make him feel bad about himself.

Read More: Discipline Strategies that Promote Healthy Self-Esteem

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