I was contacted by a national magazine today to give input on what to say when kids say something embarrassing. I enjoyed reminiscing about things my own children said. I also found myself smiling about the many stories I have heard from parents I work with.
Ah, the joys of our children. The humor and entertainment is wonderful. However, there are times when parents are required to dance like they never danced before, to be as sharp as a tack, on a moment’s notice, with wisdom and moxy, handling such a situation with seemingly effortless action... Yes, these are times when parents often feel like they have to morph into SUPER parent- maybe thinking a phone booth for changing into a cape would be better than having to do this on their own. Yup, parenting calls on us at times we are completely unprepared to expect the unexpected – like in line at the grocery store. Typically, it happens when parents are in a somewhat captive audience situation too – like on an elevator. Hmmm. Maybe it is just dangerous to let kids sit and wait while people watching.
In answer to the magazine writer’s inquiries of me, I put down some thoughts for parents on this topic of what parents should say when their kids say something embarrassing.
There are two primary considerations right off the bat. Was the child's
comment hurtful or insensitive to other people around you at the time? For
example, "Mommy, that lady is weally fat!", or "Why is that man all
black?” (Real comments out of the mouths of my own little babes).
Or, was the comment embarrassing to you. For example, to the people in the
elevator commenting on a little boy's Mickey Mouse hat - "We got it at
Disney World, but Mommy says the only other souvenir we got was my baby
sister." (Real story) Or at our church, with about 2,000 in worship, when a little boy said loud enough for all to hear, during the stilled silence as the senior pastor walked up to preach –“ oh no, not him again!”
If it does not hurt anyone else - laugh! Enjoy their innocence!
When it is a little embarrassing or hurtful to someone around you and they
heard what the child said, it could be a teachable moment. Here is where a
parent really shines as a dancer on tip toes. The parent reaction is
everything. The parent may assess the situation, and calmly and lovingly
explain to the child, as the situation dictates. Some examples:
Black man - "Honey, God makes us in different colors, and we are all the
same in every other way." The parent may smile at the black man to model to the child
how we treat everyone with respect.
Large lady - "Honey, people are all different sizes and God loves us all the same” For a younger child, too little to understand, a parent could probably just let it go and smile at the large lady. Forgiveness and understanding can be communicated in the most simplest of gestures. For a child a little older, it may be appropriate to discuss in
the car how people become overweight and how they may feel when someone
comments about it.
Child in a wheelchair - Perhaps, if it seems appropriate, the parent could walk their child over and say hello to the child in the wheelchair. Maybe the parent could mention that their child was curious about the wheelchair, putting a positive for both kids into the teachable moment, while bridging and normalizing the interaction for friendship.
Bottom-line, the reactions and behavior of the parent model to the child
empathy, compassion, love and respect for others, decency, integrity,
tolerance, and so much more.
May such situations be some of your many finest moments in parenting.
Lori Jo Kemper is a PCI Certified Parent Coach® and speaker.
Copyright 2006, Lori Jo Kemper, www.TheParentingPath®