“Shame on you!” Have you ever heard that phrase? We were at Busch Gardens recently, and a young boy next to us was having a meltdown. His father was extremely frustrated and started yelling at him, “Is this really who you are? You’re such a baby. Shame on you!” The father had good intentions. He was trying to motivate his son to make better choices. The subtext of his comments was, “This isn’t who you are; this decision runs contrary to who you are.” That’s not what his son heard, though.
The one thing we must not do when we’re trying to discipline (‘disciple,’ ‘teach’) our child and our emotions are starting to red line is to shame him or her. Shaming a child is a common, oftentimes instinctive, but also highly destructive form of discipline.
Here are some examples of shaming:
The put-down or name-calling: “You’re such a baby.” “You’re so selfish.”
Moralizing: “Oh, I thought you were a good girl. Good girls don’t do that…”
Comparison: “Why can’t you act more like your sister.” “None of the other children act like you do.”
What’s the real danger of shame?
Shame is a word that almost defies definition. Its root word means “to cover.” In the Scriptures, you’ll often find the verb “to cover” in front of the word “shame.” Psalm 109:29 says, “May my accusers be clothed with disgrace and wrapped in shame as in a cloak.” Psalm 34:5 says, “Those who look to the Him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame.”
Shame is a covering.
It is also one of Satan’s deadliest weapons because it paralyzes you. It insulates you from God’s grace. You might hear about God’s grace, even believe it’s possible for others, but not you—you’re dis-graced, which is a synonym for shame. You’re immune to God’s attempts to redeem and heal your past. You’re protected from the truth of His word, shielded from God’s blessing and calling on your life.
To understand the damage of shame in parenting, we need to look deeper than the goal of good behavior. If we think the punishment “worked” because it changed what the child was doing, we’ve severely limited our view of healthy discipline. It’s important to distinguish shame-based conformity with morally-motivated behavior. A child might have “good manners” and be highly compliant, but it could be coming from a toxic source: fear and shame. Two common responses to shame are self-hatred and rebellion.
What are some good alternatives to shaming responses?
Look below the behavior:
Behavior is a form of communication for kids. They will often act out what they can’t verbalize. What’s the real issue that needs to be addressed? How can the needed correction take place without losing the connection?
Clear, consistent, and understood boundaries:
Respectful boundary setting implies a strong statement about you, as opposed to a negative statement about the child. Address the issue, affirm their intrinsic goodness, and speak into existence what you want to see changed.
Grace and shame occupy the same space. One drives out the other. When we live by grace, we become conduits of it. The same is true for shame. Ask God to reveal any shame that is keeping His grace from reaching your heart. Ask Him to help you distinguish His voice from all other voices—to discern truth from lies.