To shame someone is to put them down. It’s to crush their heart and make them feel less-than in the moment. Most literally, if we descriptively define what it actually means to use our words to shame another person, it is to inhibit, humiliate, embarrass, degrade, crush, and wither their very soul.
And yet we so often resort to shaming kids when they misbehave or perceive them to be in the wrong.
What does it mean to reclaim discipline without shame? It means to turn each of those words around into their antonyms.
Explain and acknowledge.
Calm and Comfort.
Grow and strengthen.
This is positive discipline.
To build our kids up in preparation for the future, it is imperative they have a strong tower. That they can have a place they can turn to for encouragement and to know that their confused mistakes will be explained. That they will be acknowledged as a human and not placed on a pedestal of ridicule.
May all of our kids have some sanctuary of calm and place of comfort, hopefully in our arms. May they be helped and their hearts be mended. May we grow them and strengthen them to face each day with confidence.
How can parenting without shaming kids when they’re wrong even work?
The short answer is by drawing our kids in instead of pushing them away.
We can highlight a need for change in a teaching opportunity, but the moment we smear their noses in a mistake, the fight or flight instinct takes over — and the parent-child relationship, no one will wins that battle.
I have sat down to talk to so many friends who all say the same thing, shame is the only thing they know how to do. In fact my good friend Whitney at Beauty in the Mess stated it so concisely “I feel like the default in discipline is shaming, which doesn’t get us to our end goal as parents.”
At the core, we want our kids to feel remorse for what they have done. But remorse isn’t shame.
Remorse is having a feeling of repentance or regret while shame is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress”.
While we can’t protect our kids from feeling negative emotions, we can be diligent about creating a place of wise, gentle counsel when we discipline.
Empowering our kids when they fail is the first step to discipline without shame
Skip the ridicule in favor of empathy
It’s easy to mock something we see wrong. It’s really easy to think that making a joke out of a serious or semi-serious situation will lighten the mood, but maybe all it does is erode trust or create a future script in their head about how a situation might play out, leaving them feeling alone at the center of the commotion.
When we empathize, we show our kids we have been in a similar place and lived to tell about it. We use our own experiences to show the brokenness in our behavior and actions, but the ways we can all redeem ourselves and make wiser decisions in the future.
Empathy tells children they’re not alone, they’re not the first, and there’s a way out as time goes on.
Invite your children in instead of pushing them away
It’s unrealistic to believe I will always have the right response and I am sure you’re thinking the same thing. Sometimes it’s natural to feel angry at a situation or to shout and cause divisions in the parent-child relationship.
But what if we learn to make the shift even if it just starts by recognizing the need to be pulled close after being pushed away? Or what if we simply have to give ourselves grace to know we will be triggered or frustrated at times, but it’s still our responsibility as the parent to mend the situation?
Emma is my wild child full of opinions, energy, and strong will. She will most likely test me and push me to the limit for the rest of my life. Therefore, sometimes it triggers me and I lash out. One night this week she screamed at me that I was a liar when I said she had not brushed her teeth. I swiftly picked her up as I told her that it’s not her place to call me a liar and that she had, in fact, not brushed her teeth. I brush them and walked away.
She cried and threw a fit for about 45 seconds as I regained my composure.
I then walked in and very softly asked if she needed a hug… so quietly that she had to lower her cry to listen to me. I again said “Can i pick you up?”
“Yes” she squeaked with arms raised.
I spent the rest of the night chatting with her about what it means to tell the truth, why calling someone a liar is impolite, and how we could both do better tomorrow.
Focus on what went right to be able to discuss what went wrong
When a child misbehaves or gets in trouble, our first instinct is to address the foul. But instead of trying to be life’s referee, ready to throw our kids out of the game, what if we’re the coach trying to help them excel no matter if they’re winning or losing?
Let’s talk to our kids about why they think the way they do. Maybe even why they thought what they did was the correct action. It will give us insight into how they are processing situations and give us talking points on how to achieve a better outcome the next time.
When my oldest decided to drop a word at the dinner table that was not something we would normally say, it was easy for an extended family member to shame her for using a cuss word. But to her young mind, she had no concept of words being bad at the time. Shaming jumped to her being wrong, but having the opportunity to say “wow, that’s a new word I haven’t heard you use before. Can you tell me about it?” doesn’t indicate that they’ve screwed up, but opens discussion instead.
Use natural consequences vs. unrealistic punishments
We are very firm believers in natural consequences and not punishing kids. Why? Because we know that consequences are the direct result of an action; therefore, kids learn to correlate the two to know in the future what will come next.
However, punishments are typically intended to shame a child for not behaving appropriately instead of teach them to make wiser decisions in the future. Punishments lead to fear and frustration, while consequences are logical, natural, and become expected.
If my child uses something inappropriately whether scissors, a motor vehicle, or something in between, they get it taken away.
If they lie, they lose trust.
If they disobey, they lose freedoms or have firmer boundaries for a set time.
Work to establish a strong family culture
What do you believe? What are your values? Can you be counted on? Is there grace and mercy?
What really is it that defines the culture of your family?
It’s actually really important to sit down and define because if you don’t, it will naturally happen anyways. So to be intentional about by writing it down and defining what your family holds as true and how you will (hopefully respond in tough situations means that both you and your children have something to turn to other than precedent.
It sets boundaries and limits that actually encourage your children not only to respect a boundary and not cross it, but also it typically builds that feeling of remorse and repentance (as mentioned previously as opposed to shame) because of having the family bond and expectation that they would never want to let you down!
Related Book recommendation: No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
More on positive discipline strategies
Need help reframing how you see or respond to situations with your kids? This cheat sheet will help you through some of those tough moments when you want to react with frustration instead of love. The sneak peek is below, but be sure to subscribe to download the full, printable version!
Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 5 children living on a farm in New England. She believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience and has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development. She is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!