Shaming a child for behavior doesn’t work—here’s what does

Punishment and shame don't create positive behavior change. Here's why experts say there's a better way.

why shaming children doesn't work

How often do we see a "misbehaving" child and think to ourselves, that kid needs more discipline? How often do we look at our own misbehaving child and think the same thing?

Our society is conditioned to believe that we have to be strict and stern with our kids, or threaten, shame or punish them into behaving. This authoritarian style of parenting is characterized by high expectations and low responsiveness—a tough love approach.

But while this type of authoritarian parenting may elicit "obedient" kids in the short-term, studies suggest that children who are shamed or punished in the name of discipline face challenges in the long-term. Research suggests that children who are harshly disciplined or shamed tend to be less happy, less independent, less confident, less resilient, more aggressive and hostile, more fearful and at higher risk for substance abuse and mental health issues as adults and adolescents.

The reason? No one ever changes from being shamed.

Research shows that punishing and shaming kids creates more misbehavior, not less.

Consider this scenario:

You've fallen behind at work. You're under the gun to finish a presentation and turn in an admittedly-sloppy final draft full of careless mistakes. You know you can do better, but you haven't been feeling well, have had insomnia for the past few weeks, and you're having a lot of anxiety about your health which has been interfering with your work performance. Upon reviewing the presentation, your boss storms into your office, slams it down on your desk and yells, "What is this garbage? My kindergartner can do better than this! If you don't have this entire thing redone by tomorrow, you're FIRED!"

How do you feel? You already felt awful and now you've just had a nice dose of shame to compound your feelings of misery. You might work hard to fix the presentation out of fear of being fired, and maybe you'll never turn in a half-baked presentation again, but did your boss's response help address the root of the problem? No. His angry, punitive response made you feel insignificant, misunderstood and angry. Both at yourself and at him.

Now consider this:

Same scenario, except after you hand in the presentation, your boss knocks on your door and asks if he can come in and talk with you for a moment. He sits down and explains that he looked over your presentation and was surprised that it wasn't up to your normal standards. He asks if everything is okay and genuinely seems concerned. You explain that you've had some recent health issues and you've been a bit preoccupied. Your boss listens attentively and empathizes, saying how sorry he is to hear that you've been having a rough time. He explains that you'll have to stay late to revise the presentation but suggests that you take a personal day to get some rest and make an appointment with your doctor.

How do you feel? Seen, heard and understood. Relieved. Cared for. You stay late and work extra hard to fix the presentation. You turn it in with confidence and head home feeling less anxious and empowered to finally see that doctor you've been avoiding.

In the heat of the moment dealing with negative behavior from our child—a huge meltdown over a toy they can't live without, or some action we think they should "know better" than to do—we may instinctively react with shame and punishment, thanks to how prevalent this disciplinary reaction is in our culture. But shame and punishment never result in lasting or positive change. It may seem like the easy way out to yell at our kids, to send them to time out, to shame them with our words and punish them with our actions. But this only disconnects us, creates fear and anger in our children and lessens our influence on them.

We do not need to punish our kids to teach them a lesson, just as we don't need to be punished in order to shift our behavior.

"But how will my child learn to behave?" parents ask.

They learn through our modeling.

They learn through connection, love and compassion.

They learn through being seen, heard and understood.

They learn through consistent and firm limits.

They learn through guidance.

We have to let go of our tired and ineffective all or nothing thinking—If I don't draw a hard line, my kid won't learn how to behave—and we need to embrace a new paradigm—I can have high standards for my child's behavior and tune into and be responsive to her emotional needs. It doesn't have to be one or the other, it can be both.

When we replace the old adage "spare the rod, spoil the child," with the motto, "children need the most love when they're acting the least deserving of it," we will begin to create a new parenting paradigm that will result in happier, healthier and more resilient kids.

Next time your child acts out, instead of reacting with shame or punishment, try getting down on their level, mirroring his frustration by saying something like, "I see you are having a hard time," then giving them a hug. You'll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Products that solve your biggest breastfeeding challenges

Including a battle plan for clogged ducts!

When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.


Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.


Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.


Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.


boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.


Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.


Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.


Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this


Sorry, you can’t meet our baby yet

Thank you for understanding. ❤️

In just over three weeks, we will become parents. From then on, our hearts will live outside of our bodies. We will finally understand what everyone tells you about bringing a child into the world.

Lately, the range of emotions and hormones has left me feeling nothing short of my new favorite mom word, "hormotional." I'm sure that's normal though, and something most people start to feel as everything suddenly becomes real.

Our bags are mostly packed, diaper bag ready, and birth plan in place. Now it's essentially a waiting game. We're finishing up our online childbirth classes which I must say are quite informational and sometimes entertaining. But in between the waiting and the classes, we've had to think about how we're going to handle life after baby's birth.

I don't mean thinking and planning about the lack of sleep, feeding schedule, or just the overall changes a new baby is going to bring. I'm talking about how we're going to handle excited family members and friends who've waited just as long as we have to meet our child. That sentence sounds so bizarre, right? How we're going to handle family and friends? That sentence shouldn't even have to exist.

Keep reading Show less

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have kids—so here’s what I did

We asked our three most pessimistic friends who have kids whether it's worth it or not

As told to Liz Tenety.

Around the time my husband and I were turning 30, we had a genuine conversation about whether or not we wanted kids. I was the hesitant one because I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's just hold on. Okay, let's talk about this. Because we love our life. We like traveling. Is this what we want?"

My husband said, "Let's ask our three most pessimistic, crabby friends who have kids whether or not it's worth it."

And every single one of them was like, "Oh, it's unmissable on planet earth."

So when I got pregnant, I was—and I'm not ashamed to say this and I don't think you should be—I was as connected with the baby in my belly as if it were a water bottle. I was like, I don't know you. I don't know what you are, but you can be some gas pain sometimes, but other than that, we're going to have to meet each other and suss this relationship out.

But all the cliches are true that you just know what to do when the baby comes out. Some of the times are hard, some of them are easier, but you just gotta use your gut.

Keep reading Show less