Lately there have been stories and photos in the news and on Facebook streams, of parents hanging signs on children to shame them for bad behavior. We would like to say that it’s cute with dogs, but it hurts children. Some parents, unfortunately, are wildly approving of this idea. I think of it as combat parenting.
In one of our workshops, one parent thought the dad who made his son hold a poster about bullying was setting a limit. We agreed that he made a good effort to teach his son a lesson, but his method was too harsh. If the child had stood with a sign that simply said “Honk if you hate bullies,” he would have had a sufficiently eye-opening experience. But by starting the sign with “I am a bully,” this child invited honkers to hate him personally. And every viewer of the sign was put in the horrible position of having to judge this child without knowing the whole story, and to participate in the bullying dynamic themselves.
We encourage parents to set limits and hold kids accountable, but we learned in writing The Bullying Antidote that shame and humiliation are at the roots of violent behavior (Chapter 4). Modeling and teaching respect, empathy, communication and compassion are the keys to shaping positive behavior — and self-compassion is part of it. Kids who don’t let bad feelings fester don’t take them out on other kids.
Our society has come a long way since public stoning and scarlet letters were the norm. Publicly shaming your children for bullying, or stealing, or in at least one case, pooping. is like putting a curse on them that will erode family love and trust down the road.
Louise recently shared a wonderful blog post on our Facebook page that explains in a very clear way the emotional impact of shaming on a child’s heart. Imagine parents, this writer suggests, having to hold signs that say,
“Forgot to pay phone bill and got cut off.”
“Yelled at a co-worker and lost my job. Now we are losing our house.”
“Went out and got drunk and now I have a DUI.”
In this article, blogger Heidi Stone points to another blog that suggests a much better approach: Praise in public, correct in private. Respect and compassion maximize cooperation, improve a relationship, and increase the likelihood of learning the lesson.