Several days ago, while approaching the library entrance with my toddler, I noticed an older man waiting for public transportation. He struck up a conversation with me. The gentleman was weathered and his clothing evidenced that he was a Vietnam vet. My son, noticing that the man had some missing teeth, began shouting “You are missing some teeth!” He kept repeating himself until I pulled him aside and whispered to him, “I think the man knows he is missing teeth.” Cheeks red, I quickly ended the conversation and rushed my toddler inside.
Have your kids ever embarrassed you in public?
Maybe like me, your thoughts start swirling. Are they going to think I am a bad parent? Will they want to be friends with me? Can’t they just see that my kid is special but just curious?
Some say their behavior reflects on us, but that doesn’t mean that we played a part in their choices. Their choices are their own and there is only so much that we as parents can do to prevent their misbehavior.
It Happens to Everyone
The other day, I attended a trial for a toddler class at a local nursery school. I had both of my kids in tow because my preschooler attends school in the afternoon. As the group began playing “Ring Around the Rosie,” my toddler jumped up on the stage in the auditorium, and began dancing around while my preschooler was running around outside the circle. Frustrated, I grabbed my toddler off the stage and gave my preschooler “the look,” then gestured for him to come to me. Even worse, the teachers also had to constantly redirect my children.
Afterward, I followed up with the director of the school to apologize. She responded by reassuring me that there was no need to apologize and she disclosed a bit about her children, making me feel more at ease.
Knowing that every parent has experienced this has encouraged me to realize that I am not alone—and I am not a failure.
While embarrassing moments are unavoidable, through trial and error, I have learned a few tricks to greatly reduce the likelihood of them happening.
Discuss Appropriate Behavior
Since my kids can speak and hold conversations, I discuss appropriate and safe behavior in the car with them as we approach our destination. You may not realize it, but the behavioral expectations are different depending on the setting. For example, the volume of our voice can be higher in a supermarket than it can be in a doctor’s office or a library.
Car rides are a great time to have conversations with your kids because you have their undivided attention.
Make the discussion age appropriate, of course, and fun…if you can. After a while, they start to know the expectations in various settings. I often have my five-year-old remind my toddler of the rules.
Pay Attention to Your Kids’ Needs
Once, when I was at the library (I can you tell we go there a lot), I ran into to someone as I was leaving. I hadn’t seen her in a while and I struck up the conversation. After about three minutes, my toddler started throwing videos from a shelf onto the floor. I had to quickly apologize and say goodbye.
What I should have done, in retrospect, was either give my child a book to look at for a few minutes or tell the friend that it was so nice to see them and ask to have their phone number so that we can could up another time.
In that situation, my child was probably tired or hungry and he needed me to notice his needs.
Young children aren’t good at noticing those triggers, so they need help from adults.
A good rule of thumb, children often have breakdowns when they are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (HALT).
Sometimes, when we are at home, I role play upcoming situations with my kids. For example, maybe if they are going to attend a wedding or a funeral for the first time, we might role play using either toys or our own bodies. Doing this allows them a safe space to bring up questions and concerns.
You can also look for books or videos on the topic you want to expose them to prior to the real event.
When I take the time to prepare for the day, with enough snacks and activities for down time, my kids behave better. If I bring a stroller for my toddler to library to check out books or hire a mother’s helper to come with me to the supermarket, I greatly reduce the likelihood of embarrassing moments.
Embarrassment is Unavoidable
Even with the best preparation, our kids are going to embarrass us. At the time, those embarrassing moments may make you want to hide under a rock, but in reality they will probably be the things you laugh about and tell your children’s future mates in years to come.
So please, give yourself some grace and laugh it off. You are doing a great job! What advice do you have for parents who deal with embarrassing situations in public?