Mom…” I said, my tween voice trailing off as I looked at her across the table. She lifted her gaze to mine, chewing, eyebrows raised in question. A giggle welled up inside me. She had no idea! “Mom, you have spaghetti stuck to your cheek!” I said. My sister whipped her head to the side and grinned. Even my dad paused to look, fork mid-lift. My mom batted her face with her fingertips and a small piece of spaghetti dropped to the table. My sister and I burst out laughing. How super embarrassing! But then my mom did something none of us expected. She located the errant noodle and positioned it back on her face. Then she gazed around the table. “How does it look now?” she asked, her eyes twinkling. We all stared, mouths agape, stunned into silence.
My mom had the last laugh that night. She acted as if nothing bothered her. It was so unexpected that it stole the wind from our sails. I never forgot that night at the dinner table and years later, it’s a trick I’ve used myself to handle embarrassment. Not up for the noodle trick? Well, here are 5 more ways to help kids deal with embarrassment.
1. Be relatable.
The giggles behind me in the hall made my stomach drop. I turned around to find Laura, one of the popular girls, pointing at me and laughing. “You have your sweater on backward!” I dashed into the girls’ restroom and stood in front of the mirror. Sure enough, I had a chest pocket on my shoulder blade. Feeling mortified, I quickly turned my sweater around and hurried off to class. Telling my daughter this story made her giggle, but she saw me laughing at the memory too. “Hey,” my demeanor told her. “I lived to tell about it. You can too.”
2. Move on.
Embarrassing things happen all the time! Making a big deal out of them only makes them seem worse. If we want our kids to handle embarrassment better, they should learn how to move on. Avoid making any self-deprecating statements when something embarrassing happens to you like “I’m so careless!” or “Wow, I can’t believe I did that.” Acknowledge it if you want—“That was embarrassing!”—and don’t dwell.
Embarrassing things happen all the time! Making a big deal out of them only makes them seem worse.
3. Downplay mistakes.
“If I get the answer wrong, they’ll laugh at me,” my fourth-grader said when I asked why he didn’t raise his hand in class. He was afraid of being embarrassed. I wondered what I could do to help him overcome this fear. I made a conscious effort to downplay the mistakes he made at home. Instead of dwelling on that one note he kept playing wrong on the piano, I let it go. I realized my criticisms at home might be affecting him in a way that carried over to the classroom, contributing to his fear of embarrassment.
4. Validate feelings.
Sometimes, kids don’t want to talk about their embarrassment and in that case, we should let it go. But if they are crying, or seem stuck on the embarrassing moment, say, “It’s OK to be embarrassed.” Assure her that it’s a normal part of life and that it happens to everyone. You might also want to share an embarrassing moment of your own and how you handled it. According to Rae Jacobson of the Child Mind Institute, “Helping your child gain perspective without minimizing his feelings will make it easier for him to move past negative experiences—and give him an important tool for building self-awareness in the future.”
5. Point out another viewpoint.
When I asked my son if anyone else had been laughed at in his class for getting an answer wrong, he thought for a moment and then admitted, “No.” Then he took it back and said, “I don’t remember.” Ha! I was so happy he said that because it allowed me to show him that most of the time, people don’t remember other people’s mistakes.
Figuring out how to help kids deal with embarrassment can be tough. Do you have an embarrassing moment you’re able to share with your kids? What is it?
ASK YOUR CHILD…
Do you ever get embarrassed? What is embarrassing to you?