What makes criticism of kids & teens backfire big time (and 5 ways to avoid it)

child teenager psychology

Last week I had "one of those days" and nothing was going right.  Out of frustration, I harshly criticised my husband.  Later, when things settled down, I felt a strong sense of shame.

And unlike other times when I've been critical - times when I've been able to apologise and reach out - on this occasion, my strong sense of shame lead to me shutting down.  I felt sad, helpless, angry and unable to do anything positive towards fixing what had happened.

Eventually, I "unfroze", apologised and it got sorted out.  But it took a few hours.

This experience was a powerful reminder for me that shame does not help people act in positive ways.  
Shame freezes, it shuts down learning, stops positive behaviour and stifles relationships.

If we want kids and teens to change their behaviour, we need to do everything we can to avoid our kids and teens feeling shame.

Does this mean we avoid correcting children and young people?


Does this mean we avoid allowing young people to experiences the natural consequences of their behaviour?


But wherever possible, we need to find ways to teach young people and set up boundaries for them - without them experiencing shame as a result.

Here are some ways to discipline without shaming:

1.Remind children and teens - shortly after correction - that we care about them.
"I'm sorry that this has been such a hard night for us, I just want to say again how much I love you"

2.Regularly notice any attempts young people make towards doing the right thing.
"I saw that you did try to clean up some of your room before you went out last night.  I really appreciate that, it would have been tempting to ignore it"

3.Tell children and young people about our own mistakes in similar situations.
"You know I remember lying to my parents about something similar, I understand why you felt like lying"

4.Make positive comments about children and young people's character:
"You are such a caring person, I know that you would have tried to avoid getting angry at your brother before it all went wrong."

5.Offer a hug (where appropriate)
"Before we talk about this, do you want a hug?"

6.  Talk about learning and improving skills rather than being "bad"
"You are still learning to manage your frustration when you have to get off the computer, and I want to help you get better at it".

Young people and kids will often need to have conversations with us about their mistakes and how to do things differently the next time.  They will often need to experience the consequences of their mistakes.

But they don't need shame.

If you need any help in managing difficult child or teen behaviour, then feel free to contact us.


Our online resource Calm Kid Central has a helpful video and tip sheet for parents/carers on using praise to turn around kids' challenging behaviour. To find out more, click below.

Or click here for information about our counselling services for parents and young people.