How to Avoid Shaming Your Child – And Keep Strong, Loving Boundaries

How to Avoid Shaming Your Child & Keep Strong, Loving Boundaries

Shame happens quietly. It doesn’t bruise and it doesn’t scrape, and there is no obvious facial expression that marks its landing. It’s easy to miss, and it’s easy to think it doesn’t cause any problems. But it does.

Shame happens in all sorts of families, including loving, attentive, nurturing ones. It manages behaviour by persuading kids to feel bad about themselves for needing, feeling or wanting something. It is a comment about what the child is, rather than what the child has done and it causes children to shrink away from their potential, rather than be ignited by it.  

The Problem with Shame.

  • It fails to help kids internalise values and lessons.

    Shaming kids kills their capacity to act from internalised values, and instead fires up their desire to simply stay out of trouble. We send them backwards. They might do the right thing, but internally there’s no connection between their behaviour and doing the ‘right’ thing, or acting with compassion and empathy. It creates compliant kids who will act in such a way as to avoid future shame, but it does nothing to build kids with strong minds who are guided by an internalised drive to make good choices. When kids feel shame, they will focus on who they are (naughty? disappointing?), rather than what they’ve done.  

  • It fails to teach empathy.

    Empathy is the cornerstone of healthy relationships and emotional intelligence. It requires that children look outside of themselves to see what other people might be experiencing, but shame consumes their attention and turns it inward on themselves and their deficiencies. We know from research that children who are more likely to feel shame actually have less capacity to feel empathy towards others. 

  • It can encourage socially unacceptable behaviour.

    Shaming causes kids to feel small and powerless. Disempowerment is an awful thing to feel and some children will try to reclaim this by finding another way to exert their power – usually by seeking out someone who is more vulnerable and easier to stand over.

  • Models poor problem solving.

    Shaming models dysfunctional ways to deal with problems. It teaches kids that it’s okay to be critical, judgemental, righteous when someone gets it wrong. If we yell the message, it’s even worse. A tantrum is a tantrum whether it’s from an adult or a child. I’ve thrown a few decent ones myself, but when it happens, it’s important not to hold it out as deserved or provoked by the child. In the same way we need them to own their behaviour, we need to do the same.

  • Encourages lies and secrecy.

    Kids, like us, are wired towards self-preservation. If telling the truth about a less than glorious moment will expose them to shame, this can be enough reason to avoid the truth at all costs. If we want them to tell the truth, we need to make it safe for them to do that.

  • Fails to encourage ownership of the behaviour.

    In order to change a behaviour, there has to be room to own it. Only then is there scope to explore the effects and start thinking about a more effective way to respond. Shame is more likely to encourage denial on the basis that owning it would confirm the message of being less than.

What do we do instead?

Children naturally want to please the people they care about. They’ll get it wrong – we all do – but inside them is the desire and spirit to do the right thing. They will naturally develop into empathic, kind and respectful adults, but this will require treating them with the same kindness and respect that we expect from them. Shaming can break that spirit and break the connection with us. The worst thing about this is that it will fade our influence like it was never there to begin with.

  1. Focus on the behaviour, not the person.

    All kids are going to do things that leave us baffled, angry or frustrated. If they’re anything like the rest of us, they’ll never stop. Rather than making a comment about them or who they are, (‘You’re so naughty’), talk about what they’ve done, (‘I’m really upset that you pushed your brother. I understand that you’re angry, but what would have been a better thing to do?’). Discipline, as in ‘disciple’, means to teach, and the best type comes with patience, love and guidance.

  2. Expand their emotional literacy.

    Being able to get a sense of our own feelings, as well as someone else’s, is a hallmark of strong emotional intelligence. Shame crushes the opportunity to widen their emotional vocabulary because it wipes out dialogue. Dialogue is gold, and there are rich opportunities even when things aren’t going well. When setting boundaries, make a strong, clear statement about the impact of their behaviour, (‘I’m upset that you lied to me, and I’m confused about why you thought you had to.’ ‘I feel angry when I see you push your brother like that. I know you can do better than that’), rather than speaking negatively about them, (‘You’re so naughty for lying to me’).  There is nothing wrong with them seeing you feeling angry, upset or frustrated in response to their behaviour, provided you make it about their behaviour and not about them. That’s how the world works, and you aren’t doing them any favours by letting them think everyone will respond to the things they do with indifference or perfect measure. Of course, it’s important not to be carried away in the emotion – intense anger or sadness can be scary for them and makes conversation and connection pretty much impossible. 

  3. Be the person you want them to be.

    They watch everything we do, and what they see in our unguarded moments is powerful. There is no greater way to influence them than to be the person we want them to be, and to respond to them the way we want them to respond to the world. Let them see consistency between what we say and what we do. If we tell them to be kind and tolerant, but shame them when they get things wrong, we’re communicating so many messages: ‘Everyone deserves kindness except you.’ ‘Kids have to be kind but grownups can be anything.’ ‘It’s okay to be mean to smaller people.’ For a little person (or a big one), it doesn’t get much more confusing than that.  

  4. Treat them as though they are already the person you want them to be.

    Every time we interact with them, we’re shaping the image they have of themselves. That image is so powerful – they’ll live up to it or down to it. We want to preserve their sense of self and keep the image of themselves as whole, intact, creative, capable, powerful, strong, beautiful beings. We also want them to see themselves as emotionally responsible. This is so important. Lifting them up, and nurturing their sense of personal empowerment, without teaching them about the impact of their behaviour on people runs the risk of raising little narcissists who are forever getting their own needs met at the expense of everyone else’s. We can nurture the image inside them by treating them as though they are already the people we want them to be, ‘I know you are a really caring person and you wouldn’t hurt people on purpose. Let’s talk about what just happened.’ ‘I know that you didn’t intend to hurt your sister’s feelings, but that what happens when mean things are said. How can you put this right?’ What we attend to is what will become important, so if we can slow things down enough to see them through their behaviour, we will be lighting up the person they are capable of becoming.

  5. Avoid the labels.

    Labels can happen so easily and although they are often done with love and the best of intentions, they can backfire. If one child is known as, say, ‘the sporty one’ or ‘the funny one’, other children in the family might interpret themselves as ‘not the sporty one’ or ‘not the funny one’. There’s nothing wrong with telling kids how much fun they are or how much you love watching them do their thing on the sports field, but we want multi-dimensional kids who make up their own minds about their strengths and weaknesses, and who will have a go at plenty of things, whether it turns out to be ‘their thing’ or not.

  6. Don’t buy in to the comparisons.

    It’s so easy to get caught up in the hysteria – and it can feel like hysteria – about where your own child sits in relation to other kids in the grade, the team, the music class – or whatever it is they’re in. Be careful of those parent all-in chats where everyone else’s child seems to be studying so much harder than yours, reading Shakespeare while yours is stumbling over Peppa Pig, or listening to Mozart while yours is listening to the sound that happens when they suck on a straw and the glass goes empty. They’ll have their own strengths and they’ll find their own ways to shine. It might be in completely unexpected way and they might not find it for a while – and that’s okay. In the meantime, give them the freedom to explore without forcing them to be something they’re not. Encourage them down different tracks, and encourage their effort, but fall short of comparing them. Talking to other parents can trigger our own shame around being ‘good enough’ parents. I feel like I’m constantly wrestling with this one. Deal with it and put it where it belongs, but don’t pass it on to the kids. Take a step back and see them for the whole, phenomenal, unique people they are. Sometimes, it’s the things they do differently to everyone else that turn out to be their incredible strengths.

  7. Be open to the things they do that are a normal part of their growth.

    In the same way that as part of our growth and learning as parents we will get things spectacularly wrong, so too will our children. Small children are curious and self-centred. They were built that way to give them what they need to explore the world and what it all means for them. Teenagers might be hostile or indifferent to our influence and appear to deliberately push against us. This gives them what they need to let go of us enough to extend into the world, experiment with it, and find their own independent place.

    The behaviours of theirs that we wrestle with as parents are often a normal part of them doing what they need to do to flourish and reach the next milestone. We don’t want to interrupt their exploring, experimenting and learning, which will easily happen if we shut them down by shaming them for age-appropriate behaviour. Kids will get it wrong, but rarely to do they do anything with the intention of disappointing us or disconnecting from us. They certainly never do it because they are ‘bad’.

    Boundaries and strong limits on behaviour are really important for all kids. Even as adults we have boundaries around what’s acceptable and what’s not. What’s important is that they aren’t shamed for their sometimes awkward and often baffling reaches into growth and independence. This is important if they are to find their own voice, their own limits, learn about relationships, understand their impact, assert themselves with strength and grace, show empathy, and resist that which might compromise them. 

  8. Hold the ground steady through their intense emotion.

    Strong emotion is often the result of the fight or flight part of their brain being activated. It’s a healthy, normal reaction of someone who is still learning how to respond to the world. These things take time to learn, and it’s important we give them the space and guidance to do that, without breaking them in the process. Crying, yelling and tantrums are all a part of them finding their limits, and feeling the edge of ours. Try to hear what they want you to know and let them know you get it, ‘I know you’re really angry at me for not letting you go to the party. I understand that. When you’re ready I’m here if you want to talk about it.’ I know it can take the patience and grace of a saint to stay calm, and I unashamedly admit that there have been times when I just haven’t had it in me. We all come with human limits and it never hurts for them to see ours. Whenever you can though, let them know you understand how they feel and talk about a better way to respond. When they feel as though you get it you’ll have a lot more influence on what comes next.

  9. Vulnerability and courage – the antidote to shame.

    Shame comes about when the words inside them are telling them that they aren’t good enough. It’s crippling and it shuts them down. The antidote to this are the words that tell them that they are good enough, brave enough, smart enough, kind enough, strong enough. The words will come from you. Acknowledge their vulnerability rather than trying to talk them out of it, because sadness, guilt, frustration are all real, and they’re all okay. ‘I understand you’re sad about the grade you got for maths. It’s okay to feel like that. Keep working hard and you’ll figure out what you need to do differently. You have it in you to be great at maths if you keep working at it.’

  10. Understand the need that is being met.

    Shaming squanders the opportunity for us to understand more about the needs of our children. Kids react for a reason – there is always something going on. Try to understand the need they are trying to meet through their behaviour. There will always be one. Are they receiving enough attention? Are they bored? Tired? Overscheduled? Hungry? Frustrated? Sad? Angry? Is there something else going on? There are so many reasons kids do the wrong thing and none of them have anything to do with them being bad people. It’s not about making excuses, it’s about taking the precious opportunity to understand them, connect with them, show them that we can be a strong, steady, comforting presence for them, and most importantly, teach them a better way to respond.

And when they do feel shame – which they will.

Encourage them to talk about their behaviour in terms of choices, and their mistakes in terms of learning. Ask them what they think of other people who make similar mistakes, and the possible reasons those people might make them. Help them to find healthier explanations for their behaviour than personal deficiency. This doesn’t let go of the need for personal responsibility – you’re not making excuses – but you are focusing on the learning rather than the mistake.

And finally …

Parenting is tough and there will be times we respond by releasing whatever words are perched on the edge of our tongue. We’re only human, and we all only have a limited capacity for patience and solid calm. We’re going to get it wrong sometimes. A slip up now and then won’t hurt them if the culture is one in which they are free to experiment, to get it wrong, and explore their behaviour without questioning their worth. We don’t want to crush their spirit, which might sometimes show itself as defiance or a fierce curiosity, because that spirit is building them into the creative, intelligent, amazing adults they will be one day.

When it comes to raising kids, we, as the adults who love them, want to preserve as much of our influence as possible for as long as possible. Shaming kids goes against this, and although it will modify behaviour when they are young enough to be under our control, there will quickly come a time when we have no control and our influence will rely completely on their connection with us. Shaming breaks that connection. It disempowers our kids and it disempowers us. The greatest thing we can do for our kids is anything that will flourish their potential and preserve their dignity, their spirit and their strong sense of self.


Doing Good Together

Thank you for this very important article. We need to remember to teach children (and ourselves) that kindness doesn’t apply just to others; we must also be kind to ourselves as well. That means kids must be allowed to have emotions, make mistakes, and show vulnerability without risk of being ridiculed, shamed, or made smaller. Let’s focus on lifting others up and praising the behaviors we want to see.


Any thoughts on how I can nurture/empower my 17 year old son who has been shamed most of his life by my husband, his dad?

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Help him to find what he is good at – whatever that might be – and keep lifting him up with the things you say. Dads have a lot of influence over their sons, but so do mothers. Keep noticing the good your son does and have gentle conversations letting him know that he doesn’t have to accept everybody’s version of who he is. Let him know that he is strong, wonderful and has his own mind, and not everybody is going to see things his way. It’s about permission to reject the way other people see him, or their ideas about the world (including yours), without rejecting that person. Give him permission to have his own mind, but let him know that he can reject other people’s opinions without rejecting the person, and that it’s always important to be respectful. The way people treat us is about who they are. The way we resopnd is about who we are. It’s an important life lesson and it takes time to learn, but if you can start opening him up to the ideas, this will hold him strong moving forward.


That is so powerful and well said!! I love that “how people treat us is about them and how we respond is about us”!!! Thank you!

Tricia McCormick

I’m interested, what about stealing, how do we deal with this. Enforce that this behavior is not acceptable. This started awhile ago when the child was allowed to take home toys from child care. Now he is like a bower bird always bring something home that is not his. We have asked how would he feel if someone took his belongings….not getting results.
Teacher was very blunt with child and said you are stealing and would put him in time out….with no results.

Hey Sigmund

It’s not clear how old your child is, but I’m assuming is quite young. The reason you probably didn’t see any results is because it is likely that your child doesn’t understand the concept of stealing. Time out doesn’t really do much to teach the right behaviour, only that there is something they have done that they should feel ashamed of. Your child has received a confusing message. On the one hand, sometimes it’s okay to take things from child care, and then sometimes it’s not. Try to define the rule as clearly as you can – ‘It’s only okay to bring things home from child care if they belong to you, or if you have asked and the teacher has said yes,’ or something like that. Your child isn’t trying to do the wrong thing. It’s more likely that there is some degree of confusion around the right thing and the wrong thing. When he brings something home that isn’t his, explain calmly and gently that it isn’t his and that it belongs to someone else. Then, ask if he knows who it belongs to. He may need a little help. Is it the teacher’s? It is his friend’s? Does it belong to the child care centre for everyone to use? Then, explain the rule and that you understand that it can be really hard when you want something that isn’t yours, but that you know he wants to do the right thing. Then, explain that when he is next at child care you will help him to return it to the rightful owner and that it would be really brave of him to apologise for taking the thing. The problem with bluntly saying he is stealing and putting him in time out is that it can send him into shame without really teaching him about the right way to behave. It might also be worth checking his bag before he leaves child care so you can direct him towards good behaviour before it actually becomes ‘stealing’.


I really enjoyed this article and felt terrible as I read it becuase I realized I shamed my children much like my parents shamed me. I am looking for ways to help repair the damage I have done to my daughters now that they are young adults. Lucky for me they are still willing to talk to me and I have made apologies for the mistakes I made but it doesn’t fix the emotional hurt. Any ideas?

Hey Sigmund

Keep loving them and letting them know that you can see where you might have gone wrong and that you wish things were different. You sound as though you have insight and clarity around whatever has happened. Let them see this.


Thank you so much for this article! I have a smart sensitive and VERY willful 2 year old and have been doing a lot of reading on different ways to set boundaries and keep his wonderful little personality intact.


This article is gold. It summarizes so many things I”ve learned elsewhere and am trying to practice with my kids. It’s so hard, but it makes so much sense.

Hey Sigmund

Thanks Jenn. I absolutely agree with you! It’s so hard and sometimes I get it wrong myself – we’re only human. The main thing is being alive to it and putting things right when they go off track. It doesn’t hurt kids to see that we get it wrong sometimes too.


Thank you for this insightful, well written article. As a child who was raised in a dictatorship with shame as the weapon of choice i have always struggled with self esteem. And yet as the mother of 3 little ones (one of whom is very strong- willed ) i find myself using this awful strategy out of desperation and frustration. Are there any additional references you might suggest for what are “normal” & age-appropriate behaviors, such as the ones you mentioned above? So that i might better understand the development of my children? I do NOT want to pass on the legacy of shame to my beautiful children.
Thank you

Hey Sigmund

Crystal I love that you are so open to doing something differently to the way you were parented. You have made a great point – it can be difficult to know what behaviours are age appropriate for children. I will publish an article on this shortly.

Kristina O

Can you give me examples of shaming, i have only one child, and i feel like i am really hard on her, i forget shes only 5. i tend to be blunt and more matter of fact, i am working on the nurturing aspect. my daughter will just not listen like all kids do, i just have trouble disciplining and trying not to shame. If she isn’t listening or doing it to push the boundaries, i struggle what the appropriate thing is to say.

Hey Sigmund

It can be really easy to fall into the trap of thinking other people’s kids are more well behaved than your own, but honestly all kids push the boundaries. It’s their job and is part of them finding where the boundaries lie. It’s also part of them finding their own independent minds. One of the problems with shaming is that it can get in the way of their inherent need to please you. It may sound a bit odd, but the kinder you can be when they’re pushing against you, the more you’ll strengthen the connection with them, which strengthens your influence, which in turn makes it more likely that they will want to preserve what you think of them. It’s still important to have firm boundaries though, but if you can frame them in a way that refers to the behaviour, rather than the child, you’ll be on the right track. Shaming can sometimes be quite subtle, so it can be difficult to realise when it’s happening. Generally, anything that talks about the child rather than their behaviour has the potential to be shaming, so some examples would be:

>>Using a negative label: ‘Stop being a cry baby,’ ‘You’re so selfish.’ ‘You’re such a naughty girl/boy.’

>>Making their behaviour about them rather than keeping to a particular behaviour in a particular situation: ‘You never listen to me.’ ‘Why do you always make such a mess.’

>>Comparing them: ‘Why can’t you be more like your sister?’ ‘No other kid your age would be acting like that.’

These are a few examples, but a clue is if it’s something you would be offended or hurt by hearing from another adult, it’s probably going to be shaming. Kids will be really quick to translate, ‘I did bad,’ to ‘I am bad.’ Instead, try to talk to them the way you might talk to an adult you care about who is doing something to upset you. Kids need to feel respected and approved of and they need to feel a clear separation between who they are and what they do, particularly when they get it wrong.

So what to do instead? Make it about the specific behaviour. The more you can build a positive image of themselves in their own minds, the more they will have something clear and concrete to act towards. Try things like,
>>’The mess that I asked you to clean is still there. Would you clean it up now please? It’s really helpful when you put your things away.’
>>’I understand you’re upset, and that’s okay, but it’s not okay for you to speak to me like that. I know you can speak to me without shouting. Let me know when you’re ready.’

It’s still important to have consequences and boundaries, but they have to be clearly tied to the behaviour rather than who they are: So rather than, ‘I’m taking away ice cream/ tv/ the park because you’re too naughty,’ try ‘If you’re not able to listen to me right now/ too busy to listen, I’m turning off the tv/ taking the (whatever they’re giving their attention to) until you do.’ Then, when she does what you’ve asked, ‘Thank you for listening and for packing up your toys. You’ve done a great job.’

I hope this clears things up a little. Someone said to me once, ‘People will always respond better to a carrot than a stick.’ It’s true for all of us and kids are no different. The more you can ‘catch’ her being good, and let her know, the more you will build that behaviour. You won’t always see a change straight away, but the thing about talking to them in a non-shaming way is that it’s building a connection and nurturing the need in them to do better.


Just wanted to thank you for including examples in your response. I was having some difficulties imagining what I should/should not be saying when defining boundaries with my 2 year old. I do try to say things like “It’s okay to be upset/angry, but we can’t throw/hit/etc” (our most common one), but sometimes I do revert to a “why can’t you just listen to me?!”.

Meaghan K

Thank you. It’s very interesting to read. As a mother of 4 very different girls (10, 7, 4 & 1). I find my 7 year old shrinks down shoulders, arms and head when she is in trouble. We aren’t physical with our children but like you said she isn’t hearing what I am explaining she is just trying to hide. None of the others are like this. They seem to listen, adjust/discuss and move on. Yet when I praise her for something she doubles in size. How do I maintain discipline/behaviour if I can’t explain to her when she does something wrong? How do I speak her way so that she can hear me?

Hey Sigmund

The main thing is to speak to her in such a way that talks about her behaviour, and the impact of that behaviour, without making it about who she is. What you think is really important to her and in that moment, she will be feeling as though she has disappointed you, which she probably has. It’s okay for her to realise that her behaviour has had that impact on you, but the main thing is not to say things like, ‘You’re such a disappointment,’ or ‘Good girls don’t do things like that,’ – that sort of thing. Given that she is so open to what you think, (I love the way you talk about her doubling in size when you praise her!), when you talk to her about her behaviour, finish by letting her know that you can see how great she is. Disapprove of her behaviour, then approve of her. ‘I know you can do this,’ or ‘You’re such a great kid. I know that you can find a really good way to …’ Give her the message you need to give her about her behaviour, but let her leave with the image in her head of herself as good and capable and approved of by you.

It may be that she will always shrink a little when she feels as though she has done something wrong, and that’s okay – what you think will always be important to her – as long as the message is being delivered in a way that explains the problem with the behaviour, not the problem with her as a person.


Yes, a toxic parent knows the power shaming has over a child. Especially if they know the child is sensitive. The added advantage is that it wields a powerful blow without leaving physical scars. This was my toxic mother’s preferred form of punishment and control. Something that becomes so deeply ingrained, it becomes a part of you for life.

Hey Sigmund

Shaming can be devastating can’t it. There may not be physical scars but it can leave plenty of emotional ones which can be just as damaging. The messages your mother gave you through what she did are a reflection of her, not a reflection of you, and this will be the key to breaking away from the hold those messages might have. You may not have received messages of love, support and nurturance that built you up and showed you how wonderful you were, but you deserved to.


This was a good read. I do playground supervision and can apply this when I need to speak to a child(ren) about a behavior or situation that happened on the playground. Many kids I deal with come from families that may not be healthy for them; emotional wise. I try to be that support for them and this article will help me even more.

Hey Sigmund

I’m so pleased this will help you. Your support for these kids is so important and as a teacher, you have such an enormous capacity to make a difference to them.


Thanks for the excellent article! Two points: (1) Children’s “shame-ability” varies as well. I was much less resilient than my siblings growing up. Our father shamed us equally, yet some of us handled it better than others 🙂 To this day I have horrible low self-esteem from all those years being told I was ‘worth nothing’ — then when I cried, that I was “too sensitive.” (2) A definition of what constitutes shaming might be helpful too. For starters, I’d say that any sentence that declares or pronounces — that starts with “You are…” instead of a caring, “Are you feeling…” …is a red flag… For none of us are here to define who anyone else “is.” We are only here to help our loved ones grow.

Hey Sigmund

Yes, the points you make are really important ones. In the same way we all differ in our capacity for happiness, sadness, jealousy etc, we all differ in our capacity to feel shame. Sensitivity works both ways. On one level it makes people more open to love, nurturance and connection with another person, but if you are open to the positives, you’re also open to the negatives, such as shaming. And as for what shaming behaviour is, it’s anything that talks negatively about the child rather than the behaviour, so the example you give is a great one.


I understand what you mean when you wrote, “some of handled it better than others.” I’ve talked to my brother at length about shame, and we have come to the realization that “Analytical” people (him) internalize shame vs. “Action Oriented” people (me) externalize shame. Meaning, I tend to inflict shame others whereas he holds it in and continues inflicts shame on himself. Both are harmful, and it is equally important to take steps to overcome so as not to perpetuate that toxic cycle. We’ve been looking at the topic of shame for a while, and I’m glad that I can look at myself honestly so as not to continue to harm my own children with shame.


I agree that a clear definition of shaming is needed. I really enjoyed this article and it reinforced many of my own thoughts and ideas. It just missed the definition which then influenced my reading of the article. What I would be interested in reading is an article that helps parents identify keys when they are possibly shaming. I don’t think we as parents realise when we are doing it or notice it when we notice behaviours our parents did that affected us that we now do to our own children. There are some valuable guidelines here I would love to read more about this topic. Thank you for a useful and practical read.

Louise Patrick

This has to be one of the best, most empowering articles I have ever read! I am an attachment therapist and guiding parents to exercise reflective functioning in their interactions with their children is a big part of what I do. This article includes all the key concepts that are so crucial to the development of a secure attachment and puts them all in such an accessible and empowering way for parents to engage with. I will be sharing this over and over and over! Thank you for taking the time to write so eloquently!

Sue F

Shame: the silent epidemic. A great article Karen. Have been reading about shame for a couple of years now. I was labelled “the sensible one” while my sister was labelled “the pretty one”. I don’t think people realise the harm they cause. If you dared to say anything then you were “too sensitive”. I think the biggest insult was that my parents have left both my brother and I as executors of their wills as I was called “too emotional” to deal with things. But with greater understanding of shame I have been able to obtain some tools to deal with it. My sister learned from my mother the art of shame and the power it has. Their “brutal honesty” comes in the form of criticism, judgment self righteousness and it’s just plain brutal. They know no boundaries. For years I knew there was something not quite right but I could never name it…now I can. Many thanks for bringing this out into the open. It definitely needs to be talked out.

Hey Sigmund

Thanks so much Sue. We know so much more about shame now and the way it cripples people and it’s definitely a conversation that we need to keep having. It’s an incredibly strong thing to be able to question the processes that happened as part of growing up in a family and see them with a new clarity. It’s so important though and is the only way to break from old family patterns that would otherwise keep you stuck. You show wonderful insight.

Sue F

Thanks Karen. But another amazing thing I’ve learned is that I can now see it in other families and the effect it has on its members. It seems to be passed down from generation to generation. We need to stop the cycle.


So well written! This goes beyond shame to cover so many aspects of general discipline through decent, loving parenting. Really enjoy your website.


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The point of any ‘discipline’ is to teach, not to punish. (‘Disciple’ means student, follower, learner.)

Children don’t learn through punishment. They comply through punishment, but the mechanism is control and fear. 

The problem with this, is that the goal becomes avoiding us when things go wrong, rather than seeking us out. We can’t influence them if we’ve taught them to keep their messes hidden from us. 

We can’t guide our kiddos if they aren’t open to us, and they won’t be open to us if they are scared of what we will do. 

We all have an instinctive need to stay relationally safe. This means feeling free from rejection, shame, humiliation. The problem with traditional discipline is that it rejects and judges the child, rather than the behaviour. 

Hold them close, reject their behaviour. 

This makes it more likely that they will turn toward us instead of away from us. It opens the way for us to guide, lead, teach. It makes it safe for them to turn and face what’s happened so they can learn what they might do differently in the future.

Rather than, ‘How do I scare them out of bad behaviour?’ try, ‘How do I help them to do better next time?’ 

Is the way you respond to their messy decisions or behaviour more likely to drive them away from you in critical times or towards you? Let it be towards you.

This doesn’t mean giving a free pass on big behaviour. It means rather than leading through fear and shame, we lead through connection, conversation and education. 

The ‘consequence’ for big behaviour shouldn’t be punishment to make them feel bad, but the repairing of any damage so they can feel the good in who they are. It’s the conversation with you where they turn and face their behaviour. This will always be easier when they feel you loving them, and embracing who they are, even when you reject what they do.♥️
#parent #parents #mindfulparenting #gentleparenting
Kununurra I’m so excited to be with you tonight. I’ll be giving you super practical ways to strengthen your kiddos and teens against all sorts and all levels of anxiety - big anxiety, little anxiety, anxiety about school, separation, trying new things - all of it. You’ll walk away with things you can do tonight - and I can’t wait! Afterwards we’ll have time for a chat where we can dive into your questions (my favourite part). This is a free event organised by the Parenting Connection WA (I love this organisation so much!). The link for tickets is in my story♥️
Hello Broome! Can’t wait to see you tonight. Tickets still available. The link is in my story. 

Thank you Parenting Connection WA for bringing me here and for the incredible work you do to support and strengthen families.♥️
What a weekend! Thank you Sydney for your open hearts, minds and arms this weekend at @resilientkidsconference. Your energy and warmth were everything.♥️
I LOVE being able to work with early childhood centres and schools. The most meaningful, enduring moments of growth and healing happen on those everyday moments kids have with their everyday adults - parents, carers, teachers. It takes a village doesn’t it.♥️

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