Shaming Children Is Emotionally Abusive
Children respect those who respect them.
Posted Sep 10, 2012
I recently attended a social gathering with friends, family, strangers and a bunch of cute kids. As the day ended and goodbyes were shared, I overheard a 6-year-old quietly ask her mother for something. Suddenly, in front of the crowd, the mother exploded and yelled hysterically at the child. The little girl was silenced with tears streaming down her cheeks. It looked like a familiar scene for mother and daughter. The crowd silenced too, but quickly acted as if nothing happened.
This example of shaming and humiliating a child can have long-term devastating effects. Will this little girl grow up to respect her mother? Don't children only respect those who respect them?
“Wherever I look, I see signs of the commandment to honor one’s parents and nowhere of a commandment that calls for the respect of a child," said my colleague, Alice Miller, who passed in 2010. Her deeply thoughtful and profound work continues to inspire. She’s considered the most articulate child advocate in the world.
Adult children raised by narcissistic parents frequently tell similar childhood stories of shame and humiliation. Often these shaming acts take place in front of other people. Treating children badly and without respect is not the golden rule for parenting, so why do we see this so often?
Just today, a friend shared a similar story. Her brother frequently shames his children. When the family gets together, he loudly announces the wrongdoings of his children, with no insight into the damage it does. The children stand listening with eyes cast downward. Is it any wonder that young people in these situations grow into adults with self-doubt, depression, and anxiety?
Shaming and humiliating children is emotionally abusive. It is not okay to smack children physically or with words. Young people deserve and are entitled to reach out, attach, and bond with their caretakers. It is an expectation that the parent will provide safety, protection, acceptance, understanding, and empathy.
When this does happen, children grow up knowing their worth and demand respect from others and themselves. When children are emotionally or psychologically abused, they grow up feeling unloved, unwanted, and fearful. Normal development is interrupted and it sends the wounded child into exile. This is when negative internal messages are developed and why we have so many adults today feeling “not good enough.”
As children become adults, they parent themselves in the same manner that they were parented. Messages internalized from childhood are now ingrained in the adult. Those messages play like repeating endless tapes. “How could you be so stupid?” “You can’t do anything right.” “This is why no-one likes you.”
Shaming and humiliation cause fear in children. This fear does not go away when they grow up. It becomes a barrier for a healthy emotional life and is difficult to eradicate. If these same children become parents, the possibility also exists that the fear and negativity can be unwittingly passed through the generations.
Our goal in recovery is to stop the legacy of distorted love. As Seneca (Roman philosopher, author, politician, 4 B.C.E. to C.E. 65) says, “ Fear and love cannot live together ... Blows are used to correct brute beasts.”
When we talk about disrespectful children, we must look at parenting. Solid parenting shows children respect and empathy. When a parent truly gives respect to a child, they receive it back. When this becomes the norm for the household, we see young people grow up with a loving value system that makes a difference in the world. However, when children are shamed, humiliated and then silenced, it represses the harm that may re-surface later in life. If this happens, it can be in the form of self-destruction or cruelty to others.
Make the commitment to never shame a child. Treat children like you want to be treated. If you were raised by narcissistic parents, your own recovery work truly makes the difference. I salute you for the earnest efforts to stop the legacy of distorted love. The children of the world need YOU!