How to respond to shaming.

Messages from Chinuch Research Center

If you are looking for ways to help your child develop confidence and independence while also teaching them how to respond to shaming effectively, then Elav Friedman MSW’s latest article is a valuable resource for you. The article provides practical tips and insights to support your child’s journey towards independence and equip them with the necessary tools to navigate and address shaming and other unpleasant behaviors. We, at the Chinuch Resource Center, highly recommend that you read this enriching article and create a supportive environment for your child’s growth and self-esteem.

How to respond to shaming.

Help your child become an independent adult. 

“It’s ten o’clock; do you know where your children are?” This was the message splayed across television screens in my youth, imploring parents to keep their children safe. To this day I wonder if it helped. 

While the exact role of a parent can be defined in many ways, most of us would agree that ensuring our children’s safety is a critical element in that definition. Whereas throughout history the focus would be primarily on the physical (and perhaps spiritual) safety of our children, in more recent times the necessity of psychological and emotional safety have become increasingly recognized as no less important. In fact there is much research (and anecdotal evidence) that indicates that emotional damage is far more insidious, more damaging, and more difficult to heal than physical ailments. 

It’s impractical for us to be with our children at all times to ensure their safety (as if we could do so were we to be with them). Our children will likely face numerous situations in which their emotional wellbeing will be under threat. They may be the targets of bullying and may even face the specter of shaming, be it at the hands of peers,  What can we do to protect our children from such threats? Is it possible to inoculate them against the effects of shaming and the like? If we discover that our child is being picked on, how should we respond?

The Foundation

Life is challenging. Actually, let’s call a spade a spade: life is hard. This is not to say that life isn’t beautiful; the two aren’t mutually exclusive. But we all face challenges, difficulties and rough times. 

While it is our job as parents to protect our children, attempting to shield them from life’s every day challenges, disappointments and difficulties is a terrible mistake. In so doing, we rob our children of the opportunity to develop the skills to cope with challenges, pain and discomfort. It is therefore critical that we learn to distinguish between situations that are dangerous to our children and situations that are challenging and difficult (and perhaps even somewhat painful) but that they can navigate without our intervention.

A rule to consider: is the challenge that my child is facing one that they can reasonably handle on their own? On their own does not mean that we cannot be supportive or offer guidance or advice. It does mean that the child will be handling the situation and not us. 

When my children complain about a situation in school I hear them out and discuss the situation with them. In the event that speaking to the teacher would be an appropriate step I (generally) insist that the child be the one to have the first conversation with the teacher. Only if the child has made a serious attempt to speak with the teacher and not seen any improvement will I call the teacher myself. A number of my children have therefore had the opportunity to learn the efficacy of good communication, learned communication skills, and developed the ability to advocate for themselves with teachers and other faculty members. Had my wife or I stepped in immediately, our children would have been robbed of these valuable learning experiences

Resisting the urge to intervene when our children are struggling can have another tremendous benefit. When our children seek our help and we insist that they deal with the situation themselves we are in essence insisting that they are capable of handling the situation themselves. There are two main ingredients to instilling self-confidence in children. The first is facing challenges and overcoming them. Nothing breeds success as success does. The second is by believing in them. Children’s worldviews are shaped by their parents. When parents believe in their children, the children, in turn, believe in themselves. When parents step in and save the day, they unwittingly send the message that they don’t believe that their children are capable of handling the situation on their own. 

Difficult People

All of us have to deal with difficult people, with bullies, with those who won’t think twice about attacking us verbally or emotionally. We can wish it wasn’t so. We can try to educate our youth so as to lessen the prevalence of such people in the next generation. But dealing with difficult people – be they people that lack social graces, people who are bullies, or just people coping poorly with a difficult day, week, or month – is a regular part of life. 

It is therefore critical that our children learn the social and emotional skills to cope with such people. In all likelihood each of our children will have to deal with a difficult People Almost everyone will have, at some point in their life, a boss whom they find less than desirable. And there will be bus drivers, taxi drivers, cashiers, bank tellers, policemen, doctors, nurses etc. who will be having a hard day – or hard life – and who will mistreat them. Those who have developed skills will be able to emotionally protect themselves from such people – or at least recover from the experience quickly and smoothly. Those who haven’t will be thrown by such experiences, and find themselves struggling greatly from situations that their peers will be able to shrug off with relative ease. 


So how do we respond when we find that our child is the target of a campaign of shaming? The first thing is to determine the effect that it is having on our child. Listen to your child to get a sense of their experience. Are they just upset or distressed

Upon appreciating our child’s experience, we have to gauge if the situation is one that the child can handle on his own. Sometimes ignoring the situation and not giving bullies the edification of successfully bullying can end the situation. The most effective way of undermining a bully is generally by standing up to him – though it often can be difficult (and sometimes painful) in the short run. If the situation is difficult but not dangerous, it’s best to allow the child to work it out. Offer support, offer guidance, and keep an eye on the situation. But let them work it out. 

If, however, parents are convinced that the situation is dangerous for their child, they must consider their options. This is particularly the case when the shaming is being done by another adult as opposed to by a peer. Carefully consider options. It can often be helpful to discuss the situation with parents who are familiar with the situation (parents of other children in the class; those who are familiar with the personalities involved) or with a professional. 

Care should be taken if parents want to directly approachr the parents of the child who is doing the shaming. Is there reason to believe that those being approached will be open to hearing what we have to say? Might they become defensive? Could it be that the child who is shaming is mimicking the behavior of those whom we hope will stop it? Sometimes, despite our best intentions, attempted interventions exacerbate situations instead of alleviating them. 

Whether parents choose to intervene or not, consider the following: numerous studies have been done over the past twenty years regarding various influences in the lives of adolescents. The results are startling to those who aren’t intimately familiar with the inner workings of the teen-aged mind. The loudest voice in a teen’s head – not the only voice, and not always the voice they follow – but the loudest voice in a teen’s head is their parents’

Shaming undermines a person’s sense of self-worth, their confidence, and their social standing. Parents’ unwavering love and support can turn back the tide; reaffirming the child’s inherent self-worth, replacing their confidence, and helping them assert themselves to find a healthy place in their social framework.