Why does your four-year-old say and do the most embarrassing things? DR RICHARD C. WOOLFSON explains why you shouldn’t overreact when that happens.
Your four-year-old has an amazing ability to embarrass you by either saying or doing exactly what’s on his mind.
In his naivete, he says and does what he thinks, not because he want to be cheeky or abusive, but simply because he hasn’t learnt the social graces necessary to protect other people’s feelings and he is very impulsive. Here are common embarrassing moments:
The embarrassing question You may be caught completely off-guard in the supermarket when your kid asks in a genuinely interested voice – which is loud enough for everyone to hear – “Why is that man so fat?”
As far as your child is concerned, his question is sensible. But to you, his question is very awkward.
The embarrassing stare When you are in the shopping mall, your child sees someone with a visible disability. Drawn by his natural curiosity, he stares unflinching at that person until they pass each other.
You can see that he is staring – and that the person with disability knows she is being peered at – but you can’t stop him from looking without making a public scene.
The embarrassing tantrum When your preschooler can’t get what he wants – especially if he is with you on a boring and tiring food-shopping expedition – he can easily have a meltdown.
Unaffected by his surrounding, he rages uncontrollably in full view of the other shoppers, who turn around and watch how you handle the situation.
The embarrassing gift Your child acts impulsively, often without thinking. So when Grandma brings him a birthday present that he doesn’t like, he immediately announces: “I don’t want it.”
He didn’t mean to embarrass you, and he certainly didn’t intend to upset his grandmother, but that is the effect his impulsive reaction has on others.
Caught in any of those embarrassing moments, your first reaction might be to respond as though it was an adult who had made the remark.
For instance, you might reprimand your four-year-old furiously and ensure he is severely punished for his comments or behaviour. It’s best not to overreact, however.
Instead, address the wronged party. Bear in mind that most people have had children themselves, so chances are, they have already experienced the embarrassing faux pas with their child that you are experiencing now.
If you are sure that the wronged party definitely heard what your kid said, or saw what he did, give a straightforward “sorry” on behalf of your child, then move away. Damage limitation is most effective when few words are spoken.
Once the immediate crisis is over, explain to your child why he shouldn’t have said or done what he did. Don’t expect him to understand immediately.
After all, you have probably encouraged him to be honest at all times, and you would be horrified if he ever lied to you. His innocent mind isn’t yet able to make the fine distinction between honesty and the justifiable concealment of the truth in order to protect others from hurt.
Encourage your child’s empathy and sensitivity. For instance, ask him to imagine that he has a huge, spotty nose which makes him look very ugly. Then get him to picture that he is at the mall with you, and that all the other shoppers stare and laugh at him.
Discuss how he would feel in that situation. Would he like it? This strategy helps develop your child’s awareness that other people have feelings, too.
Putting him in the injured party’s shoes is a much more effective learning process than giving him a sharp telling-off or removing sweets and toys as a punishment. Emphasise that it is better to say or do nothing than something which might upset someone.
Putting him in the injured party’s shoes is a much more effective learning process than giving him a sharp telling-off.
ILLUSTRATION CHENG PUAY KOON