Shaming as a form of punishment will do more harm than good to your child

Instead of shaming and reprimanding, holding a discussion can be the chance for you and your child to connect

Instead of shaming and reprimanding, holding a discussion can be the chance for you and your child to connect

What you need to know:

  • Shaming can include locking the child out, shouting at them in public, or publicly reminding them how they erred.
  • Shaming – whether obvious or subtle – is ineffective and even destructive.

Many parents either regularly or occasionally shame their children as a form of punishment. This is despite the high likelihood of punishment through shaming turning into a major health problem.  “There was a time when my 11-year-old stole some money from my purse. To punish him, I forced him to hold a paper written ‘I stole mommy’s money from her purse', took a picture, posted it on my Instagram account, and told him everyone knew what he had done,” says Ruth Waruguru. 

In other cases, shaming will involve locking the child out, shouting at them in public, or publicly reminding them how they erred. “These include the scenes we are accustomed to of a parent shouting at a child hysterically, in public or name-calling in a bid to punish them or reject their request,” says Dorothy Mumbua, a child therapist based in Nakuru. Further, according to Dr. Peggy Drexler, a psychologist and author of The Children They Produce, shaming a child extends beyond spanking or public reprimands. “There are subtler ways that parents shame their children in pursuit of discipline such as making a child feel guilty, deficient, a source of trouble or just plain dumb,” she says. Others include belittling a child or doing something as seemingly benign as rolling your eyes or sighing in response to something he or she has done. 

According to Dr. Peggy, while shaming your child mostly occurs in front of others, it is just as likely to happen in private. “As a form of behavior modification, though, shaming – whether obvious or subtle – is ineffective and even destructive. Instead of condemning the behavior, it condemns the child since he or she does not have the ability to distinguish between his or her actions and his personality,” she says. Dr. Peggy adds that comments such as ‘You’re acting like a baby’, or ‘You’d lose your head if it weren’t glued on!’ will tend to stick in the child’s head to a point that they start feeling guilty for being what they’re shamed as. Strikingly, psychotherapist Dr. Jim Hutt who specialises in family therapy says that rebuking or yelling at your kid occasionally may not diminish their sense of security and self-esteem as it would if it were the main form of punishment.

How to punish a child effectively

Bear in mind that disciplining your child is supposed to change their behaviour for the better. “Correctly punishing a child who seems bent on committing and repeating mistakes will need a consistent form of discipline,” says Ms. Mumbua. “This will require a great deal of nurturing and rewarding your child’s good behaviour and not dwelling on punishing wrong behaviours.”

When pushed to the wall, a parent may say things that will end up shaming their child. If that happens, take time to apologise to your child in a language they will understand. “You can’t teach him or her that it’s okay to make mistakes then neglect to admit your own mistakes, and worse, fail to apologise,” says Dr. Hutt.

Dr. Peggy says that instead of shaming and reprimanding, holding a discussion can be the chance for you and your child to connect and understand why he behaved the way he did. “Positive discipline is more effective than shaming or belittling. A majority of punishments considered friendly mainly come across as judgments that only intensify feelings of shame in kids,” Dr. Peggy says. 

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