Why do we rely on ‘shame to tame’ children’s behaviour?

Why do we rely on ‘shame to tame’ children’s behaviour? 150 150 Jane Evans

Shame to tame
Time-out, criticism, telling-off, ‘say sorry’, go to your room, get out of my sight; you just lost your play- date/phone/lift…… All of these rely upon loss of emotional connection with the main caregiver, loss of something helpful or pleasurable, and/or isolation. They connect the child with a sense of not good enough, unacceptability and shame. The hope is this will teach them to change their behaviour to fit with the caregiver’s expectations and desires.
The problem with shame is it causes melt-down

In a state of shame emotionally and physically there are big dramatic automatic changes that kick in. Shame triggers the survival system to either fight – so some children (and adults) start to shout, scream, cry and even lash out, flight – there is a strong urge to run away fast with no destination in mind, freeze – rooted to the spot, immobilised which if it goes on for too long can lead to a system shutdown. NO LEARNING is possible in any of these SURVIVAL states.

Shame teaches self-loathing, avoidance, deceit and self-sabotage

Shame stifles confidence, adventure, creativity, self-acceptance, authenticity, self-belief, joy, a love of learning………I could go on.

Many of us live with our shame and are ‘successful’ in areas of our lives, but invariably shame is going to undermine our fullest, greatest potential.

Children and young people will DEFINITELY make mistakes. It is in the small print of their job descriptions – the bit you may not have had time to read! Their brains are not fully formed until late 20’s maybe even 30’s so we need to ALWAYS remember this.

What do children need from us?

Anyone who is learning something new – so that’s every child and young person – needs calm, compassionate teachers who can help them feel safe enough to be curious and to problem-solve to build to their knowledge and their skills.

If I was trying to learn to bake a cake (not managed this one yet!) I would need someone to go slowly, smile and be kind when I got in a fluster and put the wrong ingredient in at the wrong time, help me calm down, and start again with a system, so I got things in the right order next time.

What I’d hate would be a loud sigh, a roll of the eyes, the bowl being snatched away and banged out in the sink. I’d feel like an idiot, I’d internally crash and would want to flee the situation never to return because I’d feel ashamed.

As caregivers we need to understand and recall the very body-based feelings of shame, the emotions it triggers and try VERY hard NOT to do this to children. Nature gives children, and us a shot of shame when we get something wrong. A very young child will sense pushing their sister caused a strong reaction internally, and to their sister too. How we then plow in will either create a lasting sense of shame. It may also provide information on how to connect with us in future if other ways have previously failed e.g. when they were happily playing together and making mud pies we took the time to do something else.

Getting connection will trump being shamed BUT the ‘after-shame’ will still be strongly felt too. Over time it will reinforce the belief that they are mean and hurt others, therefore, are shameful. No one wants a child to carry that around as their truth.

Dr. Brené Brown: “Shame Is Lethal”

A Planet Called Shame 

When you shout at me I’m already gone

So you’re shouting at emptiness

I’ve jumped in my shame rocket

I’m shooting into Space

Can’t see or hear you anymore

I can only zoom far far away

Your anger, frustration, disappointment a meteor shower spraying-pitting-burning my rocket


I land with a familiar bump on a planet called Shame

I know it well I come here often

I leave my battered rocket tumbling out on to the hardness of Shame

I lay flat out in the crater of unacceptability

I swim slowly in the pool of toxic shame

I trip I stumble over the rocks of badness & unlikeability

Nothing much has changed since my last visit to planet Shame


It’s cold here on a planet called Shame

It’s lonely here on a planet called Shame

It’s scary here on a planet called Shame

It’s my destiny here on a planet called Shane

It’s my truth here on a planet called shame

I’m tired here on a planet called Shame

It’s a long way back from a planet called Shame


My rocket is damaged so I wait to be rescued

A journey full of meteor showers will do that to a rocket

I want to come back but can’t call out from a planet called Shame

I wait, I wait, I wait to be rescued from this far away place

I can fly rockets but I can’t fix them

I need your help

When will you come?


The journey to a planet called Shame is always fast and furious

The journey back is long, dark, difficult, uncomfortable

Your disapproving tone, look, sigh, shrug is fuel for my rocket

Your compassionate acceptance rescues and restores my rocket

I’ve had enough of visiting a planet called Shame

I prefer a planet called GOOD ENOUGH

Help me spend more time there


By Jane Evans


“Shame cannot survive empathy.” Brene Brown

Jane is clear she has made most mistakes in the ‘book’. She is here to support not judge!

To tap into Jane’s coaching to create ways of moving away from parenting or caregiving reliant on rewards, consequences, and praise:

E: janeevans61@hotmail.co.uk 

Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans
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