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Anxiety in children: Stop the shame, by Maggie Dent

Written by Maggie Dent: The Queen of common-sense. Maggie is an author, educator, and parenting and resilience specialist with a particular interest in the early years and adolescence. 

Anxiety in children: Stop the shame

Anxiety in children is on the increase. Shaming is partly to blame. Shaming causes distress to the psyche of our children. It starts very early and often from quite innocent comments from loving parents. 

Somewhere over the last 10 years parenting has become a type of competition. This is contributing deeply to more shaming of our children and in turn is increasing anxiety in them.

I have never met a perfect human being so why do we pressure our kids to be exceptional and perfect? When we do we increase their anxiety. There is no perfect child, parent or teacher. There never was nor will be. Humans have flaws.

Children are evolving and growing and sometimes to master a skill or a competence they fail often, that’s healthy not bad.

When parents use shaming language it implies the child is bad, naughty or in some way flawed – rather than being a child who is learning how to manage and interpret their crazy world. When children are told they are bad anxiety can occur.

Anxiety: What do I mean by shaming? Here are some examples.

Making comments such as:

  • You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
  • You naughty boy!
  • You are acting like a selfish brat.
  • You’ve been a bad little girl.
  • Grow up!
  • Stop acting like a baby.
  • Don’t be a sissy.
  • Girls don’t do that sort of thing.
  • You're hopeless.
  • You’re not even trying.
  • Why can’t you be more like your brother?
  • What are people going to think?
  • Trust you to do that.
  • You're so clumsy.


  1. Deliberately ignoring the child.
  2. Being sarcastic.
  3. Walking away as though the child does not exist.
  4. Rolling one’s eyes.
  5. Glaring at the child with disgust.
  6. Shouting, yelling and swearing at a child.

Anxiety in children: Does shame cause anxiety?

Shame is related to a number of psychological and mental health problems.

According to Robin Grille, clinical psychologist Gershen Kaufman, in his book "The psychology of shame" identifies shame as a major cause of anxiety, personality disorders, compulsive disorders, phobias and sexual dysfunction.

Shame is also strongly associated with addictive and eating disorders. The strongest link established by researchers is between shame and depression.

Anxiety in children: Instead of shaming – love.

Children need to know they are valued and loved. Feeling invisible or unloved causes enormous stress to a child’s nervous system. Often children can become emotionally needy and anxious about getting the love they yearn.

Remember, children do not see all the cooking, washing and cleaning as signs of love and connection. To feel loved children need to hear the words, have loving touch and know that you are “present” to them.

Following a loving bedtime ritual every night is an excellent way of anchoring your love for your child and reducing anxiety. The last thing they hear every night could be:

I love you more than all the grains of sand on every beach, more than all the stars in the night sky and more than all the hairs on all the bears.

Copyright Maggie Dent 2010.

Maggie Dent, Quietly Improving Lives.

Maggie is an advocate for the healthy, common-sense raising of children in order to strengthen families and communities. She is a passionate, positive voice for children of all ages. 

Visit Maggie's website.

NB: Any information contained on this site is not provided as an alternative to the obtaining of psychological or parenting advice from an appropriately qualified practitioner. Please seek the professional help you need. This information is only general in nature.