Is Humiliation a Valid Treatment?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My 10 year old daughter threw a huge fit and threw a plastic child gate accross the room. After sending her to her room to cool off, we talked to her, let her know it’s okay to have and express emotions, but we needed to find a better way of doing so. Knowing that she would not do this at school, we also asked her what was different about this situation. Her response was that she would be embarrassed to do so in front of her friends. In speaking with her therapist a few days later, he suggested recording her the next time she does this and threatening to play it for her friends. I was shocked at the response, as humiliation seems like it could potentially inflict trauma and cause more damage. Is humiliation really an effective treatment? Wouldn’t it be more sagacious to help my daughter learn to express her emotions in an appropriate manner?

A: I sincerely hope that you misunderstood the therapist. Yes, it’s tempting to want to get even with a child who is out of control, but that lowers an adult to the level of an out-of-control child. I agree. Humiliation isn’t helpful. All it teaches a kid is that adults can humiliate them. Instead of learning an internal way to control their emotions and impulses, the child learns to rely on the external controls of public shaming and fear.

Of course, there should be consequences. Part of our job as parents is to teach our children by setting limits. At age 10, your daughter is quite old enough to know that throwing things in a fit of rage is not acceptable behavior. She is also old enough to talk about it and to discuss what would help her learn how to manage anger. If the therapist can’t help you with such a discussion, maybe you should consider finding a therapist who can.

I wish you well,
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Jul 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Is Humiliation a Valid Treatment?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/07/17/is-humiliation-a-valid-treatment/