“Shame on you!” Those were very common words of parents and others in authority when I grew up. I remember hearing them regularly. I don’t mean to dishonor those who said them—I know what most of them intended to communicate. But it wasn’t helpful—or healthy—no matter how well-intentioned.
Parents, grandparents, or any authority figure saying, “Shame on you,” to a child is in response to some unacceptable behavior of the child. Other common versions are, “Bad boy! Bad girl!” Or, “You should be ashamed of yourself!”
Bad Behavior Or Bad Child?
I’m a firm believer in training kids while they are very young to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. It is a major aspect of parenting.
But there is a HUGE difference between correcting bad behavior and infusing a child with an unhealthy view of himself.
Creating a shame consciousness in a child condemns them to a life feeling unworthy and having an ongoing sense of false guilt. In essence, you will be conditioning them to feel that your acceptance and approval of them is dependent upon their behavior.
Is that what you really want? I don’t think so.
Separate the child from their behavior—love and accept the child, but not necessarily the behavior. You won’t tolerate unacceptable behavior, but they should never doubt your love for and acceptance of them.
A Healthy Process For Admonishment
Without an established process for admonishing your kids when they misbehave, you won’t be consistent and may also act in a way you regret out of frustration or anger.
This was our format:
- Stop the unacceptable behavior. Tell them to stop whatever they are doing and get control of the situation. Relocate to a more private space if possible to avoid unnecessary embarrassment or humiliation.
Address the unacceptable behavior. Remind them again of why their behavior was unacceptable.
Administer a consequence. This is a big subject and depends on the behavior, but the point is that there should be a consequence for the inappropriate behavior. It could be a time out or losing a privilege such as screen time for a duration. Something commensurate to help them remember to act differently in the future.
Require their admittance and apology. Don’t skip this. Every one of us needs to learn to admit when we’ve acted inappropriately.
“Let’s pray.” In our home, we were always directing attention to God, our heavenly Father. If we are ultimately answerable to Him, then kids need to learn to confess their inappropriate behavior to Him, ask for help to not repeat it, and accept His forgiveness.
Forgive them and reassure them of your love. Always wrap up the correction with, “I forgive you,” “I love you,” and a hug.
This may be a good time to discuss how they should have acted and what to do in the future. If applicable, you can share an important lesson you learned from making a similar mistake.
“Shame Off You!”
I recently heard a speaker begin her talk by having each of us in the audience turn to someone and say, “Shame off you!” Everyone knew she was juxtaposing the more familiar “shame on you”—and it sounded so good to all of us.
Don’t put a sense of shame on your child. Correct the behavior, yes—yet love and accept your child.
Question: How do you correct unacceptable behavior without shaming your child? Share your answer in the comments below.