Prevention Strategy #7: Focus on Behavior, Rather Than the Child

Avoid trying to change behavior by methods that may lead to loss of self-respect, such as shame.

Attack Bullying Aggression Blame Shame

“Shaming makes the child wrong for feeling, wanting or needing something,” says Robin Grille and Beth Macgregor, authors of “Good” Children – at What Price? The Secret Cost of Shame.(1)

Shame Defined

A painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety; a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute. Synonyms: contritenesscontritionguiltpenitenceregretremorse, remorsefulness, repentancerue, and self-reproach. (2) Messages which focus on “You always . . .” or “You never . . .” may be perceived by a child as attacking and critical. They tend to produce feelings of guilt and shame and can ultimately result in lowering a child’s self-esteem.

Incorrect Responses

  • “You’re acting like such a baby.”
  • “You’re such a naughty kid.”
  • “Big boys don’t cry.”
  • “This is the worst behaved class at lunch today.”
  • “You’d lose your head if it weren’t glued on!”

 Focus on Behavior

Eliminate destructive gestures, expressions, negative tone of voice, shameful words, negative labels, and unfriendly body language.  “When caregivers focus on a student’s behavior, rather than on a student’s character, it preserves student’s integrity and offers positive guidance for learning.”(3) Help students find self-respect. “I believe in me.”

Incorrect and Correct Response

  • Rather than “You should be ashamed you took Sam’s ball.”
  • Say, “When you take the ball, it makes Sam angry.”
  • Rather than: “You’re a naughty boy.”
  • Say, “It’s not safe to climb on tables. Sit on the bench.”

What are ways you can avoid shaming your child?



  1. Grille, Robin and Beth Macgregor, “Good” Children – at What Price? The Secret Cost of Shame,
  3. Guiding Children’s Behavior. Island Health. August 2014.
  4. Image: Attack-Bullying-Aggression-Blame-Shame-2087867 []

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