I’ll never forget the first time it happened to me. I had scathed by for years as a parent before I learned, first hand, the meaning of the phrase “out of the mouths of babes”. My second child was three and a half years old at the time and was feeling very inquisitive one weekend while we were traveling. What I had hoped to be a quick stop at the public rest area was really an opportunity for the little guy to verbalize every question he could think of about the differing physical characteristics of boys and girls. (I knew I should have insisted his father take him in the Men’s restroom. )
As his questions echoed off the walls and out into the lobby for every weary traveler to hear, I reminded myself to look on the bright side; his curiosity could be a sign of high intelligence.
I know I’m not alone in this boat. All parents of toddlers and preschoolers should brace themselves for those awkward moments. It can be very frustrating when young children are learning how and when to verbalize their thoughts when they have no way of understanding the concept of inappropriate.
The best and first advice I can offer to parents is to stay calm. Remind yourself that more than likely your child isn’t meaning to cause anyone harm. It is nearly impossible for young children to measure other’s responses to their own behavior. Developmentally speaking, children are unable to connect their actions to the environment. This is why kids pick their nose. They simply don’t realize, until they’ve been taught, that it’s a socially unacceptable way to use their finger.
Also, parents remember not to take your child’s actions to heart. These embarrassing moments are in no way a reflection of your parenting skills. No matter how many disapproving bystanders you have gawking at you, remember your responsibility is to your child, not to outsider. Teaching your child what is proper, versus disciplining them for their curiosity, is a huge task. How a parent responds to their child can quickly extinguish or subtly encourage a situation.
That’s why moms and dads should set a good example. Volume has a lot of power. Next time your child is talking too loudly avoid raising your own voice. Instead try responding with a whisper. Trust me, it has magical powers. Give it a try in your next conversation! Watch and see if whispering doesn’t cause the other person to lean in and pay close attention. They will quiet themselves down simply because they don’t want to miss a word you say!
If you must correct your child’s social behavior most experts agree; the less words you use the better. Avoid lectures. The longer your explanation the more likely your child will tune you out. Despite how embarrassed you may be it’s important that you don’t over react. Remain very matter of face and try and answer your children’s questions in the simplest of ways. For example when you hear, “Why is that man so fat?” it’s okay to say, “I don’t know” or “That’s just the way his body looks.” Don’t demand that your child apologize otherwise you communicate that their questions are not important.
Remember your child isn’t trying to be hurtful; they are looking for reassurance and are not aware that their voice can be heard by those around them. If you are sure the man overheard and is insulted, you might want to apologize briefly yourself.
Finally, every good parent knows the best defense when dealing with the unpredictable toddler is distraction, distraction, distraction! This is precisely why we carry extra-large purses and diaper bags. We need space for our amazing assortment of wildly entertaining thing-a-ma-jigs. (And you men thought we needed those big bags for our stuff!) No! It’s all about keeping the children occupied. We’ve been known to carry cereal, crayons and notepaper, gum, a ball, a comb, paperclips, tape, stickers, a portable video game for goodness sakes, anything that will help distract your child in an emergency.
I don’t wish those embarrassing public moments on anyone but chances are if you are a parent of small children, or in a checkout line behind a family with little ones, you will be likely to overhear some wee little voice asking the unmentionable. Look on the bright side, the curiosity and impulsiveness your child displays is a great indicator that he or she is getting a feel for the world around them and simply finding out where they fit in. Also, I never entered another public bathroom again without giving my kid a sucker first. It’s amazing how an occupied mouth can squelch a conversation! Why? Because I’m the mom and I said so! That’s why!
This article appears as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series at The Review Atlas. Stephanie is a mother to 5 children, has had lots of practice whispering and is a Parent Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville School District. She blogs at To Write a Better Story and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
What's the craziest thing your kid has said?