Author's Department


Date Submitted

Spring 2019

Research Mentor and Department

Joan Luby and Meghan Rose Donohue, Psychiatry




Shame, which involves a global negative evaluation of the self after transgressing, is consistently associated with depression in children and adults. Studies have been found that children can display elevated levels of shame as early as age three. Negative parenting practices such as rejection, ignoring, and criticism have been found to predict children's shame in middle childhood adolescence. Virtually no studies have examined whether negative parenting predicts shame during preschool, when shame emotions are developing. The purpose of this study was to examine whether negative parenting predicts preschoolers' shame. This study examined data from one time point of the Preschool Depression Study, a longitudinal study of children with early childhood depression, when children were aged 3.11-6.11 years old (N=241). Shame was measured through a laboratory transgression paradigm in which children were instructed to damage an experimenter's valued photograph. Following previous studies, body and gaze avoidance were coded during each 10-second segment of the paradigm as a measure of shame, and all codes were averaged to create a total score. A median split was used to create groups of children that were either Low or High on shame-proneness. Negative parenting was coded from an observational task that required children to wait eight minutes before unwrapping a gift while their mothers completed questionnaires. The number of signs of ignoring, minimizing, criticism, threatening, physical force and yelling were summed to create a total score. Greater negative parenting was concurrently associated with 1.07 times greater odds of membership in the High than Low shame group, χ2(1)= 3.65, p= .03. Study findings suggest that greater negative parenting predicts children's elevated shame as early as preschool. Parenting styles may be an important target of early interventions aimed at preventing children's elevated shame and depression.