I know that I was shamed and humiliated in the classroom growing up. I know that my children have too. What I didn't know is that, according to Dr. Brene Brown, it is the number one classroom management tool and that it pervades schools everywhere, regardless of economics or status.
As Dr. Brown explains it, the difference between humiliation and shame is whether or not they were deserving of this negative attention:
When your child believes that the public pointing out of their misconduct was unwarranted, they will still be embarrassed, but their inner dialogue will be, "That teacher was mean and should not have done that to me, even if I made a mistake. It should have been handled differently."
When your child believes that they deserved it and their thoughts are, "I'm so stupid. Why did I do that? I can't do anything right."
Either way, they are embarrassed. Both are completely inappropriate ways of handling any situation your child may be involved in.
This is why it is important to note the difference:
Talking about it
Chances are that if your child is humiliated, they will come to you and complain. "Do you know what my teacher did to me today?" When they do, it is important to first discuss it with them and then to take it up with the teacher. Saying to the child, "You did something wrong, so you deserved it," is not a good approach. It is never OK to embarrass a child in front of their peers. Time for a teacher conference.
If your child is shamed, they are very likely to never mention it. They keep it inside and beat themselves up and you may never know what is going on.
How, then, can you know if your child is being shamed at school?
Talk, talk, talk to your children after school. Ask them how things went.
Use discernment when you listen to their responses. Try to read between the lines.
Watch for withdrawal, sadness, frustration and negativity. Any change in behavior from silence to outbursts could be a signal that something is amiss.
If your child is referring to themself as stupid, worthless or using phrases like "can't do anything right," address it immediately. Don't allow self-deprecation to take over.
What to do if you find out that your child is being shamed?
Call immediately and schedule a parent-teacher conference. Consider inviting a third party as a witness or mediator.
Getting hostile or jumping the gun might alienate the teacher-student relationship further. Present your case calmly and sympathetically.
Formulate a plan
Offer to assist in the classroom. Explain ways that you deal with your child and offer suggestions.
Stay on top of the situation and watch for improvement in your child's mood and behavior. If you see marked improvement, send a note expressing gratitude to the teacher.
If the situation does not get resolved, consider alternatives. Continued shaming can have powerful effects on your child. Consider mediation or possibly switching teachers. If the child does not improve, also consider some counseling.
Negative self-talk is a pattern that often continues into adulthood and leads to feelings of worthlessness. Teens and adults who have this mindset can wind up in abusive relationships, feeling that they don't deserve anything better or more fulfilling.
Observing your children, keep the dialogue open, don't allow them to speak badly of themselves and teach them to laugh at and learn from their mistakes. All of these will help you to bring up emotionally healthy adults.