Tag Archives: Cheryl Erwin

No More “Shame on You”: Three Ways to Correct Behavior Without Humiliation


Shaming and criticism have been part of parenting and “discipline” for generations, but when you stop to think about it, few people feel inspired, motivated, or open to new learning when they’re humiliated, discouraged, or embarrassed.

When I was a kid, many, many moons ago, “shame on you!” was a pretty normal thing to hear. Many parents, including my own, used guilt and shame to shape behavior, letting a child know that she was a big disappointment to the people she most wanted to please.

I used to wish I could disappear when I messed up, and I sometimes wonder what I actually decided in those moments. How might my behavior might have been different if my parents had a few more positive tools in their parenting toolbox?

As it turns out, the research on shame is pretty clear. Shame is never positive, and does not motivate kids to learn, to develop new skills, or to be resilient and willing to try again. Criticism, even when it’s intended to be “constructive”, isn’t helpful, either. So, what is shame, exactly?

Shame happens when one person—let’s say it’s a parent—makes another person—perhaps a child—feel bad not about something she did, but about who she is. Shame isn’t about behavior; shame is about who you are as a person. It cuts at the heart of self-worth and connection, and creates pain rather than learning. As one of my Positive Discipline colleagues says, shame tells you that you didn’t just make a mistake, you are a mistake.

Effective discipline involves teaching, not punishment. Most parents have figured out that punishment, hurting kids in the name of teaching them something, may get you a short-term change in behavior but doesn’t teach anything valuable for the long term. But shame is subtler than spanking. And many parents find shame hard to avoid because they grew up with it themselves. It must work, right?

Actually, no—it doesn’t. Shame and criticism are discouraging—and discouraged children are the ones who misbehave. Remember, the primary human need is for a sense of belonging and significance—what we call “connection” in Positive Discipline. Shaming someone breaks that connection, and more important, breaks trust. How can your child trust in you and do what you ask when your words make him feel small and worthless? You may have grown up with shame yourself, but trust me on this one: It isn’t helpful.

So what can parents do instead? Continue reading

The Power of Genuine Connection


It can feel sometimes like the world has gone mad. Public discourse is filled with anger and confusion; people sit together in crowded spaces staring at their own flickering screens, isolated by the technology intended to connect them. And throughout the world, parents look for answers: How do I raise healthy, happy children in this complex world? How can I guide their behavior without punishing or spoiling them? Is it possible to build strong relationships in a fractured world?

The answer is yes—but it takes thoughtfulness and commitment. And the foundation is both simpler and more complicated than you might think. When parents are asked what they believe is most essential to raising capable, healthy children, most of them offer the obvious answer: love. But as it turns out, some of the things parents do in the name of loving their children are not helpful or effective. Children need more than love alone.

Imagine an infant lying contentedly in her crib. She may be watching her hands or gazing with fascination at her own feet when she suddenly becomes aware of a need. She may be hungry, or wet, or lonely, or tired. Whatever the cause, she cries to let her caregivers know that she needs them. And those caregivers usually rush to pick her up and soothe her. Especially when parents are new to the job, it may take several bumbling efforts before the cause of the baby’s distress is discovered and resolved. Eventually, however, the baby goes back to resting contentedly and her parents breathe a sigh of relief—until next time.

How many times in a day do you think this little scenario unfolds? Dozens, even hundreds of times—and each time, a baby learns more about trust and about the family she is now part of. If this cycle continues consistently throughout her childhood, she will develop what researchers refer to as “secure attachment”, what Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs called a “sense of belonging and significance” more than 100 years ago, and what in Positive Discipline is simply called “connection” (www.positivediscipline.org). This sense of being wanted and cared for unconditionally sets the stage for everything children will learn in life. Continue reading

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