How to Use Shame as a Parenting Tool – Six Tips

You or a child doing something really bad? Shamed? Shame is designed to get you back on track. Sadly, it doesn’t rate what is  worthy of shame.

Shamed by dropping a lunch box.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry tells this story about shame in his book The Little Prince:

“Why are you drinking? demanded the little prince.”

“So that I may forget,” replied the tippler.

“Forget what?” inquired the little prince, who was already sorry for him.
“Forget that I am ashamed,” the tippler confessed, hanging his head.

“Ashamed of what?” insisted the little prince, who wanted to help him.

“Ashamed of drinking!”

If drinking is leading to self harm or violence toward others, it is worthy of shame. But the shame is useless if it does not lead to a change in harmful behavior. Like most feelings shame is a signal that needs decoding. The stronger the feeling, the more decoding is necessary.

Leading Harvard researcher Jerome Kagan, views shame as nature’s way of keeping us from doing the unthinkable. He points out that shame develops when a child has become powerful enough to kill a troublesome younger sibling.  For the very young child,  a strong painful emotion needs to come into play to prevent the Sin of Cain. Shame develops naturally and is nature’s teaching tool.

Shame is considered toxic by most parent advisers. Not true.  Parents are also seen as the major reason shame becomes troubling to someone. Also not true, as Kagan points out. 

Parents need to spend less time trying to avoid a child’s feeling ashamed and more time teaching the value of shame as a warning to think about what matters. Moments of shame should be teachable moments.


Shame is only a useful  emotion only when it  keeps a child  from doing the unthinkable.  Part of every parent’s job is to teach right from wrong. Shame opens the door on teaching what is unacceptable behaviors. Here are some tips for how to shame in ways that help your child.

Tip one:  Be alert to unthinkable behavior in your pre-schooler. Doing so is easy –  no hurting people, including yourself,  or animals,   That is what nature intended shame to stop.

Tip two:  Come down hard enough so the child gets the point  what s/he is doing  is not acceptable. A loud “No hurting” or “No hitting” works. If the unacceptable behavior continues a time out is in order.   

Tip three:  When the behavior has stopped and the child has served his time out, if that was necessary, use the CARE Plan to make it clear the behavior was wrong, but the child is loved.

The CARE Plan

Making amends after losing control.

Tip four:  Teach the child to rate hurtful behaviors.  Why a rating scale? It jump starts critical thinking. Critical thinking is essential for dealing properly with life’s hurts. Critical thinking also reduces the power of lashing out at others when you are hurt.

A five point rating scale for physical hurts can start the toddler off.

  1. Five = life threatening
  2. Four = needing medical attention
  3. Three = a crying hurt
  4. Two = a big ouch
  5. One =  a “Suck it up buttercup ” hurt.

Most physical hurts are a three or less.

Starting when the child is four or five, emotional hurts can be rated on a three point scale”

  1. Three: Crying hurts mostly from being seriously bullied in one way or another,
  2. Two: Nastiness that leads to or comes from fighting and name calling,
  3. One: Suck it up stuff like not getting your own way, losing a game.

Tip five:  Teach the child self-defense skills.  

Just as I think all children should be taught to swim, I think all children need to learn basic self-defense skills.  I advocate for karate that emphasizes avoiding conflict when possible but know how to stay safe when trouble cannot be avoided.  Seek out a Peace Dojo and take lessons as a family.

Tip six: Defuse the hurt of shame.  Use the Care Plan. But also had  with self soothing skills which should be everyone’s armor against shame and hurt. For the younger child, this Breathing Buddy Video by Daniel Goleman  starts that process with a three or  four  year child.

The OMM found here works for both adults and school aged children.

Pre-teens and teens can be encouraged to think about what matters, another important Emotional Fitness Training Exercise.


Sharing is caring; so is liking, or commenting.

Thank you and work at staying strong until next time,. I work hard to do the same as life is often difficult, but exercises like this one lets me find the good.


This post was not inspired by this WordPress Daily Prompt  Connect the DotsScour the news for an entirely uninteresting story. Consider how it connects to your life. Write about that. 

The stories that lead to this post are horrific ones: school shootings and terrorist attacks for I believe toxic shame plays a part in such behaviors. Most of those who shoot up schools struggled with learning or social relationships and ended up feeling shamed but also angry enough to want to kill those they blamed for shaming them. Terrorists share a cultural shame of one sort or another.


These links are for those not familiar with Emotional Intelligence or the idea of Emotional Fitness.

Easy Emotional Fitness Exercises (
The five components of Emotional Intelligence ( Intelligence (
An Emotional Fitness Program for Parents(

One response to “How to Use Shame as a Parenting Tool – Six Tips

  1. Pingback: Stop Hiding – Three Tips | Emotional Fitness

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