Labeling and shaming a child into behaving better doesn’t produce a positive result for the child or the parent. Even if the behaviour is modified, the damage to the self esteem of a child is hard to repair and can long term effects right into adulthood. So why do we do it? Why use shame when it feels bad to dish it out and awful to feel it ourselves!
Shame is an emotion which resides in the limbic brain, your emotional centre, and is connected to your amygdala, which governs your fight, flight and freeze response. Shame is a carry over from prehistoric times where if you did something that threatened the safety of the tribe you were shunned and shamed out. It’s primitive behaviour that aimed to protect the tribe.
When we use shame as a response to bad behaviour we are working from that primitive part of our brain and not from the thinking, logical brain that has better resources and opportunity to find more creative ways to encourage behaviour modification. Our emotions have hijacked the situation and taken control!
Shame comes in subtle and in not so subtle forms and occurs not only in the home but in the work force, sporting field and in friendship circles. A put down is a form of shame… name calling can be a form of shame and labelling a child is also a form of shame (“You’re such a naughty boy!” “You’re an idiot”).
If the aim of parenting is to raise happy, resilient and confident children into capable and confident adults, then shaming isn’t part of that process. When we feel shame as a person it’s not nice and it disconnects us from who we really are… it disconnects us from our sense of self. Just think about the last time someone said something that put you into shame… could you function well… without reacting negatively? I’m guessing no!
Neuroscience is now providing us with a clear sense of how the brain works and what areas of the brain govern our thoughts, our sense of self, our emotions and our reactions. Shaming, excluding and even time outs when done to punish all result in the child responding from the emotional/instinctive brain (which is in total meltdown already). While eventually the child will modify the behaviour, the shaming and threat of exclusion and the damage to their self esteem is accumulative. You may end up with a well behaved child but when that child grows into an adult they will still fear the exclusion and have a need to please those around them to the detriment of their own needs and potentially the greater good. So punishment and shaming gives you short term control and long term damage!
So what’s the alternative? The first step is to ensure you are thinking from your logical brain and are not caught up in your emotions (anger, fear etc). You need to make sure you are calm and can think things through. I like to take time out to do this and bring myself back by focusing on my breath… breathing into my heart space helps ground me back into my calmer side.
When trying to plan your approach, you need to consider is the age of the child and the current development stage their in. Children between 0-3 are developing their logical brain through exploration of their environment. A great way to teach them alternative behaviours is through story telling and modelling of the behaviour. The story telling can show them how others are experiencing them and it can include emotions for all the players and simple logic to teach them. It’s important to teach children what their emotions are so they can grow up knowing how they feel and being able to regulate them. Story telling and discussion can be used effectively right up until they’re around 8 years old.
Young adults (between 8-25) are going through a major redevelopment of their logical brains and to top it off, their limbic/emotional brain is highly sensitive! So irrational, risky, over reactive responses are expected! For more understanding about brain development, check out this excellent TED talk on the adolescent brain..
Dealing with emotional outbursts is challenging for most parents. Again, remaining calm and grounded is important to dealing with challenging behaviour and most often, it is addressed after the event when they’ve calmed down too. Sit down with them, again identify with the emotions first…
“I could see you were really angry at me for not listening to you and you were frustrated with Jennifer because she took your money. I wasn’t able to listen to you because I was tired and overwhelmed by the yelling and shouting. I called you an ungrateful selfish s@#t and that really hurt you. We both lost our tempers didn’t we…”
Walk through what happened and keep naming the emotion. This has a very calming effect on everyone involved. Research has shown that it has an immediate affect in the limbic area and allows us to come down from our hijacked emotional overwhelm much faster than if we try to lead with fact and reasoning. Only when you’ve addressed the emotions can you come back with logic and solutions. If you go too early, you’ll notice the emotional temperature will come back up. Just listen with your heart and name the emotions as the response.
Taking responsibility as an adult shows your young person that it’s OK to get it wrong. By talking it through and finding alternative ways to respond to each other you’re teach them how to regulate their emotions. The more you do this, not only will you learn how to do it for yourself but you’ll be raising a resilient, emotionally intelligent adult.
If you take a look around you and notice all the adults struggling with their emotions, needing control, ridiculing others, looking for faults and judgements to make… these are the adults that haven’t learned how to respond appropriately as a child… they’ve been shamed and have not known how to deal with that… so they use it as a tactic too. You only need to look at our politicians and shock radio jocks to see some great examples.