Why shaming kids for bad behavior doesn’t work

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Parenting is tough. If you have ever responded to your child’s inappropriate behavior or actions in a way that has left you feeling less than awesome, I guarantee you are not alone.

Sometimes it feels as though there is a fine line between discipline and simply yelling at your kids out of anger and frustration. Still, you know that harsh punishments are sometimes a necessary part of raising upstanding citizens of the world.

Or are they?

Researchers have found that chastising, belittling and punishing children to make them feel bad — shaming them, in other words — might do more harm than good.


The Downsides Of Shaming

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a strong stance on the benefits of effective discipline, which refers to respectful discipline applied in a consistent, firm, and fair way.

AAP research shows that yelling at or shaming children is minimally effective in the short-term and ineffective in the long-term. The organization states that doing so puts children at a higher risk of adverse behavioral, cognitive, psycho-social and emotional outcomes.

Similarly, Claire McCarthy, MD, senior faculty editor of Harvard Health Publishing, states that there is a fine line between criticizing and shaming a child. McCarthy notes that shaming kids can cause issues with self-esteem. They might come to believe there is something inherently wrong with who they are or that they are not capable of changing.

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Positive Ways To Change Behavior

Of course, this doesn’t mean kids should have free rein to do whatever they please without repercussion. As a parent, you must set expectations for your child, be a model of positive behavior, and allow your kids to understand the consequences of their actions.

The AAP states that the most favorable outcomes require actively-engaged parents who teach children what acceptable behavior is. Additionally, parents should give children tools to regulate their own responses and to stay safe, and to boost cognitive, social, and other needed development.

Creating clear rules and expectations, followed by appropriate consequences, establishes a foundation for effective discipline. Following through right away every time and being consistent teaches your child that you mean what you say. Redirection can help kids change their attitudes.

Try A Time-In

If you are tempted to put your little one in time-out, consider trying a time-in, instead. Sit with your child and provide your undivided attention. Invite them to share what they are feeling and express empathy for those emotions. Crystal Antonace, the attachment parent leader for the Chicago Northside Attachment Parents organization, says that doing so helps to center and redirect the child.

“Time-ins are essentially the time a child needs his parents the most,” Antonace told the Chicago Tribune. “When a child has a tantrum or acts out emotionally over something seemingly insignificant to an adult, he needs connection to reaffirm feelings and to understand that frustration happens and is a part of everyday life.”


Sometimes, what looks like bad behavior is frustration caused by a young child’s inability to express thoughts or emotions accurately. Getting on their level and acknowledging those feelings is a loving, healthy way to get through those rough moments. Your children will learn how to conduct themselves correctly — and your bond will grow stronger, as well.


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About the Author
Tricia Goss
Tricia Goss is a Texas-based writer and editor with nearly two decades of experience. She is passionate about helping readers improve their skills, gain knowledge and attain more happiness in life. When she’s not working, Tricia enjoys traveling with her husband and their dog, especially to visit their five grandchildren.

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