If your toddler embarrasses you in public with cringeworthy questions or nasty habits, read this before you dig a big hole and jump into it. The good news is that these embarrassing moments can provide the ideal opportunity to teach your child some important life lessons.
THEY… Draw rude pictures
Why is it that toddlers always seem to do the most embarrassing things when you least expect them to?
Lottie, 35, mum to Ewan, 7, and Yasmin, 4, thought her daughter was behaving exceptionally well during a trip to the doctors. “The waiting room was crowded with lots of old people and all eyes seemed to be focused on us, so I thought I’d try to get Yasmin to do something quiet and sat her down on the floor with some pens and paper,” she says.
“She was busying herself with lots of imaginative drawings and I felt really proud, until she shouted out ‘Look, mummy I’ve drawn a bear with a big willy!’”
“Upon inspection she clearly had! The old lady sitting next to me gasped in horror and I wanted the ground to swallow me up. If I hadn’t been called in to see the doctor at that instant, I think I would’ve made a run for it!”
“On the way home, try explaining that willies are something that we only talk about at home,” suggests Karen Sullivan, parenting expert and author of Commonsense Healthcare for Children.
“Try doing drawings together to reinforce this and ask your child to concentrate on drawing lifelike ears, or another feature, which will distract her from the bottom end. If all else fails, suggest that perhaps the bear needs a pair of nice trousers to protect his modesty, and what colour would she suggest?”
THEY… Diss granny’s home-made gift
No matter how much effort you put into teaching toddlers manners, they always find a way to show you up when it matters most.
Rebecca, 31, mum to Andrew, 10, Tyler, 8, Jane, 3, and Sophie,1, told her four to be on their best behaviour when their great gran came to tea.
“Everything was going well,” says Sharon, “Until grandma pulled a knitted cardigan out of her bag as a present for Jane, and she shouted, ‘Yuk, I’m not wearing that!’ I raised my daughter to take an interest in clothes and have a sense of style but at that moment I wished I hadn’t!”
According to clinical psychologist and parenting expert, Claire Halsey, it’s impossible to avoid this situation altogether because toddlers haven’t yet developed an awareness of social conventions.
“It’s honest to show your embarrassment and apologise to a great grandmother who is probably quite understanding. Do talk over the idea that it’s the thought people put into a gift that counts more than the present itself. Your child won’t be ready to accept this yet but it’s a message worth introducing.”
THEY… Pee in the middle of the shopping centre
Some toddlers like to relieve themselves whenever – and wherever – they feel the need.
For 3-year-old Bobby, that’s the middle of a shopping centre. “I dread taking him there,” mum Verity, 37, sighs. “There’s an outdoor area with some plants and flowers, and for some reason he likes to do his wees there. Most people think it’s funny, but I find it so embarrassing.”
“Tell him that he can help ‘teach’ other little children by using the loo every time – he’ll probably take some pride in that,” says Karen Sullivan. “He could also be given a little extra freedom – perhaps being allowed into the cubicles by himself, or even being allowed some new responsibility in the house.”
THEY… Shout out the names of body parts
Most mums are proud when their children learn to name body parts but it’s a different story when they point them out – in public.
Jenifer, 28, mum to Anamika, 3, and Li, 2, dreads taking her daughter into public toilets. “On the way in she always makes a point of asking everyone if they have a willy!“ she laughs, ‘It really makes me cringe!”
“It’s normal for little ones to be fixated by body parts,” says Karen Sullivan. “It’s a big part of understanding bodies, the differences between boys and girls, and figuring out how they all work,” she explains.
“At home – perhaps while you’re getting them dressed – explain that our bodies are wonderful – yet something that we don’t show off in public. The idea is to encourage your child to feel ‘secretly’ proud of their body from a young age.”
“My son talks about boobies in the supermarket!”
“Every time we go to the supermarket, Nikki rides in the trolley, asking very loudly, ‘Where’s mummy’s boobies?’ Then he lifts up my top and shouts, ‘There they are!’”
Gill, 28, mum to Jasmine, 4, and Nikki, 2
“Thanks to my son, everyone thinks I’ve had a boob job”
“When I bought bras through mail order, my son Adam asked if he could have one. I told him that only ladies have boobs and that we don’t get things for free, we have to save up – that’s why daddy works so hard.
“Later that day, I went to the local shop with my children. We were in the queue when Adam suddenly announced, ‘My mummy’s got new boobs and they weren’t free! My daddy had to save all his money to get them!’
I was devastated. If there had been a carpet I’d have crawled under it. I grabbed Adam and rushed out with everyone trying to get an eyeful of my new boobs. Now everyone in the village thinks I’ve had a very expensive boob job!”
Amanda, 40, mum to Adam, 4 and Tina, 2