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Jan 19

May 14 Shame/Guilt vs Praise

May 2014 Monthly Ed Tip!

Teaching children moral and compassionate behaviors while correcting a child’s misbehavior.

Is it better to correct your child’s bad behavior by shaming or by causing the child to feel guilty? Is there anything you can do to improve the chances that your children will compete their chores? Is there an inborn tendency for children wanting to help?

The following discussion is based on research by Adam Grant, Professor of Management and Psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.

Grant discusses the inborn tendencies for children wanting to help: “Genetic twin studies suggest anywhere from a quarter to more than half of our propensity to be giving and caring is inherited. That leaves a lot of room for nurture, and the evidence of how parents raise kind and compassionate children flies in the face of what many well-intentioned parents do in praising good behavior, responding to bad behavior, and communicating their values.”

How should an adult respond to a child’s misbehavior? To deal with misbehavior, should adults use shame or guilt?

An adult’s response to a child’s negative behavior is a major force in the development of their moral behavior.

In response to misbehavior, children typically experience two emotions: shame or guilt

Shame is the feeling that I am a bad person.

¨ A negative judgment about the core self, which is devastating

¨ Shame makes children feel small and worthless

¨ Children respond by lashing out at the target or escaping the situation altogether

¨ Shame emerges when parents express anger, withdraw their love, or try to assert their power through threats of punishments. Children may begin to believe they are bad people.

Guilt is the feeling that I have done a bad thing.

¨ Guilt is a negative judgment about an action, which can be repaired by good behavior

¨ Children tend to experience remorse and regret

¨ Empathize with the person they have harmed, and aim to make it right

How best to deal with a child’s misbehavior and to raise a caring, moral child? The best method is to elicit guilt when dealing with a child’s naughtiness.

We must respond to misbehaviors in children in ways that elicit guilt. How do parents do this?

¨ Express disappointment and explain why the behavior was wrong

¨ Talk about how the behavior affected others

¨ Explain how the child can rectify the situation

This enables children to

¨ Develop standards judging their actions

¨ Develop feelings of empathy and responsibility for others

¨ Develop a sense of moral identity

¨ All are conducive to becoming a helping person

People often believe that character causes actions, but when it comes to producing moral children, we need to remember that actions shape character.

Karl Wieck, psychologist, “How can I know I am until I see what I do? How can I know what I value until I see where I walk?”


Two Kinds of Praise: Which should parents use? Based on research by Adam Grant

Many parents believe that it is better to compliment the behavior of children and not the children themselves. They are more apt to say, “That was a kind thing to do” rather than “You’re a kind person.”

Which is more effective? Behavior or Character: Parents reinforcing commendable behavior or commendable character: A study by Joan Grusec and Erica Redler

The study: Comparing the outcomes when adults reinforced either commendable behavior or commendable character.

Seven or eight-year-olds won marbles and donated some to children who were poor. In this study, children were assigned to receive different kinds of praise. Praise for their actions or praised for their character.

Some were praised for their actions: “It was good that you gave some marbles to those poor children. That was a nice and helpful thing to do.”

Other were praised for the character displayed by their actions: “I guess you’re the kind of person who likes to help others whenever you can. Yes, you are a very nice and helpful person.”

A couple of weeks later, when faced with more opportunities to give, children were much more generous after their character had been praised then after their actions had been.

Why? Praising their character helped them internalize it as part of their identities. The children learned who they were from observing their own actions: I am a helpful person.


Doing chores: Providing children with opportunities to help others as a way of promoting their sense of caring and resilience: Based on research by Robert Brooks

Instead of reminding children to do their chores, it is more effective to say, “I need your help.” The request for help is met with enthusiasm, unlike the request to do “chores.”

Similar results were found in the following study by Christopher Bryan.


Using Nouns vs. Verbs: Based on research by Christopher Bryan

Nouns were more effective than verbs for nurturing moral behavior

Rather than inviting children “to help,” it is 22 to 29% more effective to encourage them to “be a helper.”

Cheating was cut in half when instead of, “Please don’t cheat,” students were told, “Please don’t be a cheater.”

Many of us believe that “words are power” and this notion was certainly reinforced in Bryan’s study

“Tying generosity to character matter most around age 8, when children may be starting to crystallize notions of identity.”



“If we can control the attention of the child, we solve the problems of education.” Maria Montessori

This month Ed Tip will examine how to improve students' learning by activating their attention.