Why are schools using so many shame tactics?

Why are schools using so many shame tactics? 150 150 Jane Evans

What’s going on?

Highlighted across all forms of media are stories about the rising numbers of children suffering from a range of mental illness. Alongside this are stories of schools using shaming tactics in the name of behavior management. This is NOT a coincidence.

Ironically mental illness and shame have a close relationship. Shame induces fear which increases stress and causes a survival crisis. When it is a momentary occurrence it’s pretty horrible and hard to shake-off. However, depending upon the frequency and perceived severity of the shame, it can have a profound short and long-term impact resulting in illness. Should those who are paid to work with children be allowed to burden them with that?

Don’t children need to learn from a brush with shame?

As I re-read shame researcher, Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, I resonate with the way she defines guilt and shame:

Guilt = I did something bad

Shame = I am bad

Why do I keep finding examples of children being shamed?

I can honestly say that I don’t go looking for posts on shaming practices and policies in school but they seem to find me! This was the most recent one about Penistone Grammar School:

Parent Mathew Fenoughty said: “The children are absolutely terrified of making a mistake, be it not tucking their shirt in, a crooked tie, running down the corridor, even helping a friend in class has been punished.”

Then there are the parents, foster carers, and professionals who tell me things like:

My five year old was made to stand by a wall.

My child got put on the sad cloud but didn’t know why.

In my child’s school if they get enough strikes they get sent to the exclusion area for a full 24 hours. It can be for forgetting their pen, their shirt hanging out…..

I’ve seen primary school children walking about with signs around their necks stating what they had done ‘wrong’.

Sadly, I could go on and on!

Why shame?
  • Why would anyone want to shame a child to the core for a mistake?
  • Why would anyone want a child to feel ‘not good enough’ because they made a mistake?
  • Why would anyone believe that shame is a healthy and helpful way to teach a child anything?
  • Why are we allowing this to happen to our children?

I believe that if children have to spend 6 hours a day in fear of being humiliated and shamed that this is emotional abuse. If it was regularly happening in a family home it would be considered as a potential safeguarding need.

What if shaming worked?

Some children will be so anxious to avoid being shamed they will think about little else. When they are in and out of school they will feel anxious. Repeatedly checking they have their pen. Packing several pens. Putting pens in different places. Panicking that for some weird twist of nature they will still not have their pen.

Others will feel that they are going to get it wrong as that’s what life has taught them. The waiting to be shamed will be too much to bear so they will grab shame by the horns. Do all the wrong things to get it over and done with and experience the inevitably familiar shaming. Phew!

Then there are children who have only known chaos and/or have a range of unimaginable daily experiences to navigate before they get to school every damn day. They have to get their Dad up, washed, fed, tablets taken, and everything ready until the carers get there, then walk their brothers to school. They’ve had to sneak out so as not to wake their violent parent. There was no breakfast, they had to put their uniform on wet as their Mum is so depressed she can’t make it out of bed.

They may never tell anyone any of this. But, of course, they don’t have their school trip form, dinner money or a f*@~ing pen!! They do have a close relationship with being shameful, unworthy and downtrodden. Having a sign pinned on them, or being isolated at lunchtime and given bread and water will simply affirm their internalised sense of not being good enough. Now that IS SHAMEFUL!

What should a school behaviour policy say?
  1. In our school, we recognise that children communicate their needs via their behaviour
  2. Every adult in our children’s lives are encouraged to look beyond their behaviour and to be curious about their needs
  3. All children will be offered compassion and co-operative learning with a caring adult
  4. No child will intentionally be shamed or given a consequence. They will be treated with respect and a belief in their goodness and desire to learn
  5. For all behaviour every child and adult will receive:
  • calmness
  • connection
  • curiosity
  • co-operation

to enable compassionate learning and the building of empathy for themselves and others.

“Behaviour is communication. Our role is to see the whole child and their potential for goodness and joy.”

Brene Brown sums up so well why we should not be repeatedly exposing children to the possibility of being shamed for wearing the wrong socks, talking in class, not tucking their shirt in…….

Children who use shame self-talk (I am bad) versus guilt self-talk (I did something bad) struggle mightily with issues of self-worth and self-loathing. Using shame to parent teaches children that they are not inherently worthy of love.

To explore how to move away from school behaviour policies based upon rewards and consequences to a school ethos that’s about working compassionately with every child to fulfill their greatest potential. Contact:     janeevans61@hotmail.co.uk       07455281247

Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans

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