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How to avoid shaming your child

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There were probably many of us who grew up hearing the expression ‘you should be ashamed of yourself’ either said to us directly or to another child in our lives. It’s an extremely powerful statement and one that can have long lasting and damaging consequences especially in the arena of self-esteem and self-belief. Unsurprisingly most of us shame without realising because we are living within a very shaming culture. Everyday the tabloid headlines scream statements about so and so doing wrong and posts images of women in compromising positions getting out of cars or partying. Certain viewpoints such as untrustworthy teens in their hoodies or immigrant benefit scroungers gain a lot of momentum through our mainstream media  and become scapegoated with our collective shame. Here are some tips on how to avoid shaming your child.


Shame is a feeling that comes out of believing that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. It may be attributed to physicality in that we feel we are too fat, small, spotty or plain, or it may be attributed to something intellectual in that we tell ourselves that we are stupid. It’s an insidious emotion that can creep right inside a child or adult and really impact the lens through which they view themselves.

It takes courage to become aware of how you are parenting and to confront ways in which you would like to make changes and courage is the antidote to shame. It’s almost like we have two voices inside us, one that is the voice of shame that tells us we won’t be able to change the way we parent, we’re not good enough to do that so there is no point trying, and another that quietly reminds us again and again and again that we do have the strength to face demons, we can change old patters  and do things differently from the way things were done to us. If you decide that you would like to put a stop to any behaviour that directly or indirectly shames your children it will be helpful to recognise those two voices and make a choice of which one to listen to.

Be careful with comments

Behaviour that is directly shaming is easier to spot. It comes in the form of overt comments and judgements that give the message of a child not being good enough in some way. Comments that criticise or put down or compare unfavourably are all examples of ways that we can shame our kids, and of course in the majority of cases it is not our intention to do so. ashamed childIt is simply a side affect from behaviour that has not been thought through in enough detail. Indirect shaming is harder behaviour to spot, it can include giving messages to your children about keeping parts of themselves hidden, such as ‘don’t suck your thumb in public’ which indirectly tells them that this behaviour of theirs is unacceptable. Another form of indirect shaming is the labelling that can happen in families where one child is known as the arty one and another the bright one. Whilst these labels are often very well intended they can be flipped about in the minds of the children involved and turned into judgements of ‘not being the arty one’ and so on.

It can be very easy for us parents to become indentified with what others think of our children and see it as a reflection on us, but sometimes this perspective can backfire on the child. A classic situation to consider are the moments when you are talking about your child with another person.   In a public arena like a parents evening the pressure can feel intense for you to be seen as ‘good enough’ parents and if you hear reports of your children behaving in ways that you feel uncomfortable about it can be very easy to start judging them and attacking them rather than taking a step back, clocking how you are feeling shamed and trying to objectively understand what was going on for your kids. In other words the perceived shame that you feel then gets  passed on to the youngsters.


The second antidote to shame is kindness. All of us feel ashamed at times, it is part of the human experience and it can be excruciating to be in the grip of it. One of the most powerful steps you can take is to name what is happening, both to yourself and to another person that you trust. This alone will lesson the intensity and hold of the feeling. If we can learn to recognise shame in ourself and not accept it’s messages we then model the best way forward for our children. An open family conversation about feeling ashamed and what beliefs about ourselves have led to those feelings is great medicine for reducing the family shame monster.



About Jenny Smith

About Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith is a freelance writer and facilitator specialising in mental health, well-being and ecotherapy. She writes for National Mind and The Working Parent and facilitates training in the Work that Reconnects and Ecotherapy. She is inspired by nature, gardening, love and non-duality teachings

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