We were waiting for our lunch orders to be served.

“It’s so oppressive”, I muttered under my breath.

My husband nodded.

I could have been referring to the hot weather and high humidity. But no, I was referring to the mood created by the constant haranguing of a kindergartener at the next table.

The perpetrators? His parents.

If I could have opted out of eavesdropping on my fellow diners, I’d have done that in a heartbeat.

But either those parents were used to speaking loudly or the acoustics in the cafe somehow magnified sound waves as they bounced around. So I had no choice but to hear the demeaning words rained on that young child:

Why can’t you listen?

You refused to wash off the sand, jumped into the pool, and then dirtied the pool. You are so selfish!

Look, you are my son. Why didn’t you inherit some of my good traits?!

The child sat in his chair, looking defeated and keeping quiet. This was no argumentative or defiant child.

“I’m finding it very hard to withhold my judgment”, I confessed to my preternaturally non-judgmental husband. There goes my resolve to not judge people.

My husband nodded again, this time with pursed lips.

Despite being at a beach resort, the child’s mother had put on a full face of makeup which was unfortunately melting a bit in the humid heat. The father sported a statement hair cut and fashionable beachwear.

This couple gave off vibes as people who cared a lot about appearances.

It got me wondering how much more harshly the couple disciplined their child when behind closed doors.

People are everlastingly saying that the child’s personality must be trained. While I admire this lofty ideal, I can’t help asking who is it that trains the personality? ~ Carl Jung

Some parents may think that there’s nothing wrong with how that couple treated their child. Their child misbehaved and they disciplined their child.

Like good parents ought to.

OK, let’s try this for size. Imagine your boss says to you in front of his peers or your peers:

Why can’t you listen?

You are so selfish!

If I can do it, why can’t you?!

How do you like your boss shaming you in public and insinuating that you are incompetent?

Now you have an advantage – you are an adult.

You may have attended therapy before and know how to find a more balanced perspective on how and why that exchange happened. You may be able to tell yourself that the problem doesn’t lie with you but with your boss. You may even walk away and resign from your job. You have options.

It’s completely different for a child who’s dependent on his parents for survival.

A child can’t just leave his parents even though his parents persist in shaming him for every misstep he makes. And a child’s mind is still highly impressionable and could easily internalise the shaming.

Think about your self-critical voice… does it sound an awful lot like one of your parents or teachers who were critical towards you during your childhood?

How you speak to your child matters in more ways than you expect.

Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder. ~ Rumi

Shaming a child doesn’t mould the child into the person you want.

Instead, shaming a child is likely to make the child defensive or fearful of trying new things. The child may also develop cripplingly low self-esteem or people-pleasing tendencies. Shaming a child would also encourage the child to become better at hiding their oopsies and transgressions from you.

I don’t suppose you like any of those outcomes.

Don’t confuse shaming a child for disciplining a child. If you feel very strongly about what your child did and must criticise your child, criticise the child’s behaviour instead of criticising the child’s personhood.

When you tell a child that their behaviour was selfish, they have the option of behaving differently in the future without internalising a “selfish” identity.

But when you label a child “selfish” enough times, the child will start believing you and think that something is inherently wrong with him. Even if he is successful in correcting his behaviours in future, he may struggle to shake off the cloak of shame that his parents made him wear.

For another approach, try this: Reflect deeply on why you behave the way you do when your child’s behaviours dysregulate you.

Your insights from such a self-inquiry would easily be one of the best things to ever happen to your child. And also to you.

This article was originally published at Medium. Republished with permission from the author.