How to handle embarrassing toddler situations


They say no one speaks truer words than someone who is three sheets to the wind, or a child. But, sometimes, the innocence of a child can leave parents feeling like moving to another continent.

Claire O’Mahony, an educational psychologist in private practice in Johannesburg, says it’s important to understand your child’s cognitive and social skills development before working on a strategy to handle particular situations.

ALSO SEE: 5 embarrassing toddler situations and how to handle them

Here, she offers some guidance on behaviours you’ve told us about. Hopefully, this advice will help save your sanity.

Public nakedness

Scenario: We were at a restaurant when my three-year-old decided to take off all his clothes (including his nappy) to cool off in the restaurant’s fountain.

How to handle the situation: “A young child will do this if they’re allowed to do it at home. The association is water and swimming and when we swim, we take our clothes off. Your three-year-old is unable to differentiate between when he’s allowed to do this and when not. It’s important for parents to establish these boundaries and pre-empt situations. ‘You can go play, but that fountain is not for swimming, you can put your hand in the water only’.”

People who look different

Scenario: My one-year-old pointed at a rather large lady in a purple tracksuit and kept shouting “Barney” while we were stuck in a queue at the shop.

How to handle the situation: “This young child is making an association of the colour purple to that of Barney and not necessarily the size. It’s a difficult age to expect a child to self-regulate responses, so focus on the colour instead of the size in a situation like that.”

Scenario: My four-year-old asked the car guard why he doesn’t have any teeth. I was so embarrassed, I didn’t know where to look.

How to handle the situation: “Developmentally, a four-year-old learns from his environment and asks lots of questions. Again, the comment was not intended to be malicious or socially inappropriate, but parents’ responses in situations like this are important. Say something like, ‘He hurt his teeth and they’re going to still grow just like yours when they fall out’. Make an association to the child’s reality and don’t scold her for commenting on what she sees. Children are only able to self-regulate from around the age of five years. You can also ask your child to whisper any questions about what she sees when you are out.”

ALSO SEE: Common questions kids ask and how to answer them


Scenario: My two-and-a-half-year-old heard a car hooting and swore at it. I was mortified, but I know he has heard me swear in traffic.

How to handle the situation: “This is definitely due to exposure to the word at home. It’s important to be aware of your language at home and around your child,” says Claire. She suggests finding healthy substitutes for swear words and addressing the situation immediately once your child has sworn, ‘Only big people use that word and not little children’. It’s not fair to expect a child to self-regulate behaviour if mom and dad are not doing the same.”

ALSO SEE: 8 things you should never do in front of your child

Mom-and-dad time

Scenario: My five-year-old walked in on my husband and I being intimate during the night. In the morning, she was obviously very confused and asked us what we were doing. We told her she must have been dreaming. Three weeks later, she told the whole crèche she saw her mom naked on top of her dad and her mom was twerking. I was so embarrassed.

How to handle the situation: “Your child was just relaying what she saw with no understanding behind the action. Children at this age will report all stories, as this is developmentally appropriate. Yes, it can be embarrassing, but your child interpreted your actions to what her reality is, being that of dancing. Defuse the situation and offer a reason for your actions to put your child’s thoughts to rest. It’s also helpful to start teaching your kids to knock or call for mom and dad before entering a room or bathroom. You can model this behaviour by doing the same when entering your child’s room − even when the door is open.

scroll to top
Send this to a friend