Hidden Damage: Understanding the Toxicity of Shaming Children

Hidden Damage: Understanding the Toxicity of Shaming Children

Parents, teachers, and other authority figures have long used shaming children to modify or control a child’s behavior. Unfortunately, the toxicity of shaming children often leads to long-term consequences that can impact their emotional well-being, mental health, and relationships throughout their lifetime.

This comprehensive guide will explore the various aspects of the toxicity of shaming children, delving into its effects on their development and how to prevent this harmful practice.

The Definition of Shaming

Shaming takes on many forms, and it may not always be evident that it is occurring. It can range from verbal comments, such as “Stop acting like a baby,” “You naughty child,” and “Are you that stupid?” to more public displays of humiliation, such as posting a child’s misbehavior on social media for all to see.

Regardless of the method, the goal is to make the child feel bad about themselves or their actions rather than focusing on addressing the problematic behavior.

Social Media and Public Shaming

With the rise of technology and social media, public shaming has become more prevalent and potentially harmful.

Parents may feel that sharing their child’s misbehavior online maximizes the shame and forces the child to change their ways. However, this can negatively affect the child’s self-esteem, confidence, and mental health.

Shame vs. Guilt

It is essential to differentiate between shame and guilt when discussing the toxicity of shaming children.

According to Brené Brown, a leading expert on shame, guilt is the feeling of “I did a bad thing,” whereas shame is the belief that “I am bad.”

While both emotions can impact a child’s behavior, shame has a much more detrimental effect on their overall well-being.

Criticism vs. Shaming

Another distinction to make is between criticism and shaming. While questioning a child’s fashion choices or comparing their grades to their peers may seem like simple criticism, such language can significantly impact their self-esteem and confidence.

On the other hand, criticism can quickly morph into shaming if it causes the child to internalize negative beliefs about themselves.

The Developing Self-Concept

A child’s self-concept, or the image they hold of themselves, is formed during their earliest years. This is influenced by the messages they receive from their parents and caregivers.

For example, when children are consistently told that they are “bad,” “naughty,” or “stupid,” these messages become internalized and shape their self-concept. This, in turn, can lead to a variety of negative consequences.

Lower Self-Esteem and Negative Self-Talk

One of the most apparent outcomes of the toxicity of shaming children is the development of lower self-esteem and negative self-talk.

When a child is repeatedly shamed, they may begin to believe that they are fundamentally flawed or inferior.

This can lead to a constant inner dialogue of self-criticism, which can be incredibly damaging to their emotional well-being.

Aggression and Bullying

Shamed children may also manifest aggression towards others, sometimes as bullying. In addition, internalized shame can lead to a desire to exert power and control over others to mask their feelings of inadequacy.

This creates a cycle of shame and aggression that can perpetuate itself throughout the child’s life.

Lack of Boundaries and False Persona

Shamed children may struggle to establish healthy boundaries with others. They may develop a false persona to hide their feelings of inferiority.

This can result in an overly competitive nature, difficulty coping with failure, or an inability to express their true selves. These coping mechanisms can further exacerbate the adverse effects of shame.

Anxiety and Social Isolation

The toxicity of shaming children can also lead to anxiety and social isolation. Children who have been shamed may fear judgment from others, leading them to withdraw from social situations or avoid activities they previously enjoyed.

This isolation can contribute to loneliness and exacerbate the child’s shame.

The Toxic Effects of Shaming Children

Mental Health Consequences

Shame can have far-reaching repercussions on a child’s mental health, extending into adulthood.

The internalized message that they are “bad” or “naughty” can manifest as anxiety and depression, hindering their ability to succeed in various aspects of their life, such as jobs, relationships, and hobbies.

Relationship Difficulties

The toxicity of shaming children can also negatively impact their ability to form healthy relationships.

This is because shame often creates a sense of unworthiness, making it difficult for the individual to trust others and form deep connections. This can lead to a cycle of unhealthy relationships, further exacerbating the effects of shame.

Addiction and Eating Disorders

Research has also shown a link between the experience of shame in childhood and the development of addictive disorders and eating disorders in adulthood.

Rather than motivating a child to change and improve themselves, shame can make them feel incapable of doing so, leading to destructive coping mechanisms.

Understanding the Reasons for Shaming

Before shaming a child, take a step back and consider why you’re doing it. So often, parents may shame their children out of frustration or a desire to control their behavior.

By recognizing these motivations, parents can work towards more constructive communication and discipline methods.

Addressing the Root of the Problem

Instead of shaming a child, addressing the root of the problematic behavior is essential. This can involve calmly conversing with the child about their actions and reasons.

Parents can help their children learn from their mistakes and develop healthier coping strategies by focusing on the behavior rather than the child’s inherent worth.

How to Influence Behavior Without Shaming

There are numerous ways to discipline a child without resorting to shaming tactics. Some effective methods include:

  • Having open and honest conversations about the child’s behavior and the reasons behind it
  • Helping the child identify their emotions and develop emotional intelligence
  • Encouraging the child to consider alternative actions and choices in future situations
  • Asking the child to reflect on what they will do differently next time

By utilizing these techniques, parents can help their children learn from their mistakes and grow without causing lasting emotional damage.

Repairing the Damage of Shame

If a parent has inadvertently shamed their child, it’s essential to take steps to repair the damage. This includes:

  • Sincerely apologizing for the harmful actions or words
  • Communicating the reasons for the parent’s behavior and ensuring the child that it won’t happen again
  • Rebuilding trust and connection with the child through open and honest communication

By taking these steps, parents can help their child heal from the effects of shame and foster a stronger, healthier relationship.

Prevention and Creating a Shame-Free Environment

The most effective way to combat the toxicity of shaming children is to create a shame-free environment at home. This involves:

  • Treating children with kindness and respect, fostering feelings of self-respect and self-worth
  • Encouraging open communication and emotional expression
  • Modeling empathy and understanding for the child’s feelings and experiences
  • Intervening when shaming occurs, either by mediating conflicts or addressing the source of shame

By fostering a supportive and empathetic home environment, parents can help their children develop healthy self-concepts and emotional resilience, reducing the likelihood of toxic shame taking root.

The Benefits of Connection-Based Parenting

Connection-based parenting, also known as peaceful parenting, emphasizes the importance of fostering strong, supportive relationships between parents and children.

This approach has resulted in children who feel good about themselves, are more resilient, and have healthier relationships throughout their lives.

By incorporating connection-based parenting techniques, parents can help prevent the toxicity of shaming children and promote their overall well-being.


The toxicity of shaming children is a pervasive and damaging issue that can have long-lasting effects on a child’s emotional well-being, mental health, and relationships.

However, by understanding the various aspects of shame, parents can prevent its harmful consequences and foster healthier, more supportive environments for their children.

In addition, through connection-based parenting and open communication, parents can help their children develop strong self-concepts and emotional resilience, reducing the likelihood of toxic shame taking root.


What are the effects of shaming a child?

Shaming a child can have significant negative effects on their emotional well-being. It can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and even behavioral issues. It can also damage the parent-child relationship and hinder the child’s overall development.

What is shame toxicity?

Shame toxicity refers to the harmful and detrimental impact of shaming experiences on a child’s psyche. It involves using shame as a disciplinary tactic, which can lead to long-lasting emotional scars and hinder the child’s ability to develop a healthy sense of self-worth.

What are the long term effects of childhood shame?

Childhood shame can have lasting effects well into adulthood. Individuals who experience childhood shame may struggle with low self-esteem, self-doubt, perfectionism, and difficulties forming healthy relationships. It can also contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What are examples of shaming a child?

Examples of shaming a child include using derogatory or belittling language, publicly humiliating them, comparing them negatively to others, or making them feel guilty or unworthy. It can also involve dismissing their emotions or invalidating their experiences, which can be deeply damaging to their self-esteem and emotional well-being.

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