Moving Away from Shaming, Blaming and Punishing Children

When we change our understanding of a child’s behaviour and meet it with presence and understanding, amazing things will happen.  I really admire the way this mother expresses an experience with her daughter.

I observe how parents treat children, they can so easily project onto them.  I feel for parents as well, as I know they are not coping.  Yet when they understand themselves and their children better, the relationship will improve.  Children are a reflection of our society.


This is taken from Facebook

Aggressive acting out is a cry for healing …

By Genevieve SimperinghamIn the authoritarian model of parenting, when the child acts out aggressively, when they shout, hit, kick, defy, rebel – this tends to elicit their parent’s most harsh and critical side, as well as losing their parent’s emotional support, kindness and connection.  One of my biggest concerns about this is that aggressive acting out is the parent’s signal that their child has become very, very out of balance; that there’s some very difficult feelings pushing forward that the child needs emotional support with.  Quite often the child is re-enacting something that’s happened to them that they haven’t been able to cope with.   


Children can only act well when they feel well.  Physical acting out needs to be seen as symptomatic of the child’s being emotionall unwell, in a similar way that we view symptoms of illness.  It’s no coincidence that emotional turbulence goes hand in hand with illness in a child.  Have you ever been tested to the limits with your child’s out of balance behaviour, then discover they’ve been coming down with an illness.  Retrospectively you know that your child’s coping mechanisms have been at their lowest and they’ve been feeling really bad, but couldn’t express it verbally.  At these times, it’s a good feeling to know you’ve been giving your child extra loving support rather extra harsh treatment. 


I have so many stories I could tell about times when one of my children were acting out of their normal character in a way that was less than kind, considerate and polite! Yet, in seeing the behaviour as symptomatic and stopping, becoming present, connecting in and really listening, the painful feelings and unmet needs beneath the behaviour have come to light and the real problem within my child has been healed and resolved.  IPerhaps they’ve felt sad and lonely because dad has been working away from home a lot.  Perhaps they’ve had some big feelings they hadn’t identified about a friendship that’s been a bit rocky lately.  I often find myself thinking, once the history comes to light, how hard it would have been for a child to elicit moralizing lectures at these times – which I have done as well, much to my regret, then later repaired – because kids really are always doing their best considering what they’re dealing with inside. 


When my daughter completely lost the plot.  My daughter is now nine.  I remember picking my girl up from school one day when she was six and from the time we started to drive off, she started really shouting at me, she started wriggling, kicking her feet on the window, growling.  It was really alarming, she hadn’t been out of balance recently, I knew immeditately that something really really bad must have happened and I remember saying things like; “oh my beautiful girl, what has happened today, I can see you’ve got some really really big feelings inside”.  She was shouting the words “Stop!  Look!  Listen!” among other things which was my clue, I knew they were her teacher’s words.  I stopped the car, pulled in (a quiet area) and gave her my full attention.  I stayed really present and gave her lots of empathy, but her state was total chaos and panic and my words weren’t reaching her. 


I could see that she was locked into the struggle and needed help to break through to the releasing stage, so I offered that she could sit on my knee, offering to make a ring around her with my arms that she could push against to help her really growl and get it all out (something we’d practiced before).  She liked that idea, plonked on to my knee and pushed outwards against my arms with her hands.  The containment of my arms gave her both the safety, holding and the resitance to push against that allowed her to really growl from her belly a few times, then she dropped into big deep releasing cries – the tensions started to finally drain away.  She still couldn’t tell me what it was all about, she was far from accessing reason.  I didn’t push her to try and tell me as it was clear that she was still operating from her emotional brain and I didn’t want to risk shutting down her healing release by pressurizing her to reason or find the words before she was ready.


Dysregulated behaviour symptomizes a dysregulated state.  I find it so sad that her behaviour was what many parents would consider to be totally “disrespectful”, partly because they take it personally (understandably) rather than attuning to what’s going on with the child, which admittedly is a fairly new concept for most, and partly because we’ve all been conditioned to judge a child’s behaviour harshly rather than compassionately.  Many parents sadly view behaviour like this as “asking for punishment” or “I’ve given you the choice to stop acting like that, so you’re clearly choosing the punishment”.  Many would consider that she needed to learn that it was unacceptable to shout and roar at her mother and kick the car window.  The focus would be put on teaching her what’s acceptable and not acceptable, leaving her feelings raw, exposed and uncared for.  I think she might have even opened her buckle in her panicked claustraphobic state.  I knew that she was showing me how she felt, how unbearable those feelings were.  I didn’t need to know the story to prove that her feelings were valid, or for my need to understand what was going on. A child always needs and deserves emotional support when their feelings take them over.  A child’s aggressive actions are instinctive, they act based on how they feel, more than what they think, their feelings drive their behaviour and they can only operate from their rational thinking when they’re emotionally settled. 


The story came to light.  By the time I got back home my friend rang to see if Ayesha was ok because she had heard from her daughter in same class all about how the teacher had really shouted and growled at my girl that day because she wasn’t doing her work and my daughter became really distressed understandably.  Apparently the teacher even complained about my daughter to another teacher when they entered the room with words of “well there’s ONE girl in here today whose not doing what she’s told”. It was later confirmed that my daughter is dyslexic, which explained why she couldn’t understand the verbal instructions without being given some visual guidance to accompany it, her confusion exasperated by her teacher’s impatience.  From my daughter’s perspective she didn’t know what work she was supposed to do.  I had previously told the teacher she was most likely dyslexic, as I am and a lot of my family are, but the teacher didn’t know much about that and had put my girl into a totally confused and overwhelmed state because of a communication misunderstanding.  Meetings followed.


A child’s very dysregulated behaiour is their way of showing their dysregulated internal state, their way of crying out for help with their very difficult feelings.  Another important reason to adopt this more compassionate approach is that it’s often the only way a child can “tell” that somebody has done something really bad to them?  When people ask the question “why don’t children tell” relating to abuse or bullying, I believe that they always tell through behaviours, through their aggressive play, perhaps through nightmares, perhaps through their becoming withdrawn and extremely resistant, one way or another they show through their behaviour, but to reach the place of being able to access the words to tell the story, they usually first need help with the feelings.  If I’d shouted at my girl, put her in time out or cringe to even imagine, hit her, it would have been trauma on top of trauma for her that day.  Little kids need to get those bad feelings out. 


Moving away from shaming, blaming and punishing.  Children don’t have a need to be disrespectful, the behaviour is indicating their needs to gain help, empathy, listening, support, emotional release, to establish emotional and physcial safety, a need to be seen, a need to be respected and feel unconditionally loved.  This model of non-punitive parenting and teaching has the potential to not just break vicious cycles of shaming, blaming and punishing leading to more shaming, blaming and punishing, but it actually has the potential to bring healing to past wounds for adults and children alike.  Listening heals.  Connection heals.  Seeking to relate to the feelings and meet the needs beneath the behaviour brings healing. 


Love, empathy and respect foster the same in the child.  Now that my son is fourteen, he can legally babysit and it’s a great feeling to know that I can leave them alone at home and if my daughter becomes upset, her brother will care for her just as I would and that if a disagreement comes up, they both are so well equipped to listen to each other respectfully, to acknowledge each other’s feelings, to care for their own and the other’s feelings, to negotiate, to remain in respecful relationship even when challenged with conflicting wants, needs or opinions.  They’ve downloaded and internalized the communication skills and the culture they’ve grown up in.  This morning my daughter dropped and broke a new hardwood present that our family was given at the weekend and once we all said something like “oh dear”, my son quickly interjected “it’s ok Ayesha, accidents happen, don’t feel bad”, his ability to be with his own disappointment while also imagining and empathizing her feelings always impresses me.  All kids have an amazing capacity for empathy and consideration and it’s our empathic support that fosters these qualities within them. 


To read more of Genevieve’s articles or sign up to receive newsletters, go to  ~

Mohandas Gandhi

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”