A child I am working with has spent all of last year trying not to be put on the wall of shame. His teacher puts up pictures of children who do not turn in their homework on the wall of shame. Shame makes children feel they are bad and that they do not live up to adult expectations. Another child I work with strives not to get a red cup- in his lunch room if you act out and have poor self-regulation- you are too loud or too much – you are given a red cup and if you behave you are given a green cup. I am a social skills and executive function coach and no one I have ever worked with has received a green cup. These children need help. And they need to work on their self-regulation. I am not denying that this needs to happen. But if a child was in a wheelchair, we would not dare place their picture on the wall of shame for something they struggle with.
We talk a lot about empathy these days. We talk and talk. And yet these punitive measures are not modeling the kindness talked about in assembles and circle time in these very schools. Shame is often used with children who struggle- children whose challenges are invisible – children who need guidance moving from where they are to where everyone wants them to be. There is a specific skill set that allows children to do well in school and in social settings. It’s called executive function: the management system of the brain and it guides self-regulation, memory, attention, organization and planning. And children who cannot boss their bodies in line, who blurt, who are too loud or who march to the beat of their own drum oftentimes have weak executive function and other brain-based challenges that we need to help them improve. Placing them on the proverbial—or literal—wall of shame is the opposite of that. We cannot help them by chastising them and hoping that they will change. If these children knew how to “stay still”, how to moderate their voices, how to turn in their work- don’t you think that they would?
We talk about kindness and compassion but yet as adults we miss the mark. As we model chastising, cajoling, and shaming with systems like putting desks in the hallway ( yes I know it’s illegal but it happens), staying in from recess when you do not complete your work and dumping out a child’s messy desk and being called out in front of everyone we are not modeling every day compassion. Entire curriculums are devoted to compassion now a ways. We listen at back to school night to how we are going to make it a mission this year to really teach children to be kind and compassionate. But what we really need is to model systems and daily actions that do not hurt and shame.