Academic diary with Dzifa: School Discipline—does the cost of shaming pay the price?

Academic Diary with Dzifa: The psychology of learning – what is your strategy?


  • Shaming or verbal punishment is designed to restrain children from behaving in certain ways toward a need, want or feeling
  • Shaming crushes the opportunity for a child to learn the true lesson or intent of discipline
  • Discipline means to train, and the best type comes with patience, love and guidance

Adom is a three-year-old boy in nursery. He will not work together with his mates because he wants to work with a particular material that a classmate is working with. After knowing he cannot have it, he throws himself on the floor and begins to cry. The class facilitator tells him that he should stop being a naughty boy and asks the whole class to shoot shame at him.

At the playground, five-year-old Heaven will not allow anyone to play with the toy car that seems to be the favourite of all. The attendant at the playground tells him it is for everyone and that he is being greedy. She pulls all of the other children to the merry-go-round and the slide. This leaves Heaven all alone with a sad and morose look.

18-month-old Anuonyam is part of the group of children spending a day out at the mall. Her caregiver leaves to get something from the school bus, leaving her with the supervisor. She immediately runs after her caregiver. She is grabbed by the supervisor and told that she is a bad child, and to stay back. She stays aloof scanning around worriedly for her caregiver.

In as much as the adults in these scenarios tried to teach a lesson between right and wrong, did shaming these ignorant children really teach them any lesson at all?

“Verbal punishment is common in almost every home and school. It relies on shame as the deterrent, in the same way that corporal punishment relies on pain. Shaming is one of the most common methods used to regulate children’s behaviour.” – Robin Grille

Could verbal punishment or shaming children at school or home be secretly causing more harm than good? How much are all involved willing to pay for the cost of damage shame causes – all in the name of discipline? Could shaming leave children emotionally drained, thinking of themselves as ‘bad’, ‘naughty’ or ‘greedy’? Possibly!

If so, what can be done differently in situations such as cited in the opening paragraphs?

As facilitators, caregivers, guardians or even parents, here are a few tips worth considering in dishing out discipline to our young ones:

According to one social commentator, “Small children are curious and self-centred. They were built that way to give them what they need to explore the world, and what it all means for them. Teenagers might be hostile or indifferent to our influence, and appear to deliberately push against us. This gives them what they need to let go of us enough to extend into the world, experiment with it, and find their own independent place.”

These growth indicators are natural with young ones. Shaming them in the name of discipline will, however, rob them of the age-appropriate behaviours and will eventually shut them down. This is not to say, “Leave the child to ‘rot’”, but to give discipline appropriately and effectively with the right intention.

Children will get things done wrongly, just as adults do sometimes, but they don’t do it with the aim of disappointing the adult. These urges young ones have are part of a normal growing phase. We, as adults, do not need to wrestle this normalcy by shaming. If care is not taken, such acts could go a long way to affect the personality of the growing child.

Now, to do it right, how about focusing on the behaviour and not the child:

When a child pulls a stunt, as in the case of three-year old Adom, rather than making a comment as the one made by the facilitator. It would be good to talk about the behaviour of the child and not attack the child directly. For instance: “I understand that you want to work with that material but what about looking around to see which other ones you can work with…”

Children learn more by what they see rather than what they are being told to kind of forcibly do. Being a role model and treating the child as the person you want him/her to be will be an amazing footstep for the child to step in. This will help the child to behave well even when no one is watching. It will also mean that they will learn more from your actions. Therefore, being consistent with your words and actions are very important. Talk less about being tolerant and patient, and do more of what tolerance and patience means. They will easily learn from you.

Additionally, rather than telling a child that he or she is a bad child, tell them they are good and show them how a good child act. Then they will repeat the act the next time because they have seen you act that way with them. This will go a long way to shape the way they behave and the person they will become.

The hysteria, oh! How easy it is to be caught up in it. Nevertheless, every child is unique with regards to their strengths. Therefore, avoiding comparison and being open to the things that are normal to their growth will help each child appreciate their uniqueness and they will eventually find their own ways of breaking through the glass to shine.

If you avoid comparing the abilities of children in your class, you will see each child as pulling along well at their own pace. Shaming them for not being able to do an activity as expected from children their age can go a long way to negatively affect their self-esteem and personality. This effect of shaming might be difficult to break away from.

Shame crushes the opportunity to widen the emotional vocabulary of a child because it wipes away the chance to have a dialogue. Having a well-meaning dialogue with the child broadens their knowledge of emotions. It is fine to let them know that it is ok to become angry or frustrated, but what is not ok is how you vent your spleen (the behaviour you put up when upset). When a child learns this, he or she will better know how to deal with their emotions when it breaks loose.

In dealing with the cost of shaming, one thing we also need to keep in mind is we have to do all we can to avoid labelling children as ‘naughty’, ‘spoilt’, ‘bad’ etc. Labelling directly or indirectly boxes the child, and does not make room for any change if care is not taken.


I one hundred percent acknowledge that dealing with a single growing child is a tough nut to crack; how much more a number of them, who have been entrusted in your care and training? A feather in the cup for all facilitators, caregivers, guardians and parents for heeding to this call to redirect shaming into positive words and encouragement that will in the long run build and preserve the dignity and high self-esteem of our growing children.

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