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4 Ways to Help Kids Handle Embarrassment

Life is full of embarrassing moments, but it's how we handle them that matters. Mighty Mommy shares four ways to help your child hold his head high and keep moving forward.

By
Cheryl Butler,
Episode #499
image of a kid embarrassed in front of other kids

There’s nothing like basking in the glow of one of your child’s progressive milestone moments. This could include watching him take his first steps, getting his driver’s license, or sitting in the audience as he receives his college diploma—all pivotal moments that you’ll be proud to remember for the rest of your life.

And then, there will be other occasions your child will experience that aren’t quite as positive. Striking out with bases loaded to lose the game, not being asked to prom, being turned down for her top college choice. Those are disappointments that are simply part of life and growing up.

As parents, we witness both the joyful and painful moments our kids endure, and we do our best to encourage and support them so they can learn and mature into independent, successful adults.

One of those difficult times when our kids need a shoulder to lean on is when they happen upon life’s more embarrassing moments: not getting to the bathroom in time and wetting his pants, blurting out the wrong answer in a crowded classroom, accidentally passing gas in front of her boyfriend’s mother. Scenarios like these could well leave a lasting, negative impact on your child, but you can help them deal with their feelings in a positive way.

The next time your child feels mortified because his stomach is growling like a starving tiger during the moment of silence in homeroom, here are four ways you can help him leave the shame behind.

4 Ways Your Child Can Manage Embarrassing Moments

  1. Model Resilient Behavior  
  2. Confront and Move On
  3. Laughter is the Best Medicine
  4. Embrace and Learn

Here is each tip in more detail.

1. Model Resilient Behavior

I became the mother of eight kids in a little over a decade and with each new baby, I learned quickly that children are definitely the equivalent to porous sponges—quietly soaking up all that is happening in their daily environment, including observing how mom and dad handle the challenging situations they encounter each day. 

I can’t tell you the number of times one of my kids repeated something that I had mindlessly mumbled under my breath. Like when I was changing my newborn’s diaper and complaining to him that my in-laws never knew when it was time to leave. I had no idea my three-year-old was in the next room playing with her doll. Later that evening she innocently asked her grandparents why they never go home, and then blurted out "that’s what Mommy said!" Ouch—out of the mouths of babes.  

Its moments like these that it’s even more important to recover quickly with an appropriate response—"Isn’t she hilarious? I think she meant why do Grandma and Grandpa have to leave and go back to their home."—and change the subject rather than call attention to what just happened.

Our kids unintentionally observe us in all kinds of social situations, good and bad, so when we ourselves are faced with an embarrassing moment, the best course of action is to model behavior that teaches them that it’s OK to make a mistake out in public, it’s not the end of the world.

For example, last month my son and I left the grocery store and headed to the parking lot. He met a friend and stopped to talk. I continued on to my minivan and pressed the key fob to open the back hatch. I pressed it at least six times and couldn’t understand why the hatch wouldn’t open. Frustrated, I was about to give up when another shopper stood beside me and asked why I was trying to get into her car? Now, completely humiliated, I realized I was at another minivan that looked exactly like mine. My car, another row over, had the back hatch opening and closing repeatedly as I hit the fob. (Thank goodness the dog wasn't in the back!)

My son had now joined me and wasn’t quite sure what to say or do. There was nothing to do but laugh! I commented to the owner of that minivan, "Wow, I guess I had a really long day, I’d better get to bed early tonight!" We both laughed and so did my teenaged son.

By modeling resilient behavior, it teaches our kids that with the right mindset, we can handle even life’s awkward moments.

2. Confront and Move On

When we’re faced with an embarrassing situation we really have two choices:

  1. Avoid it and act as if nothing happened.
  2. Acknowledge what has taken place and then move forward.

Human nature urges us to run away from the humiliating experience and pretend it never happened, but Joshua W. Clegg, an associate professor of psychology at John Jay College, followed a study that recommends acknowledging the situation as soon as possible.

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