4 Ways to Handle Your Kids' Embarrassing Comments

You can teach your child what's appropriate to say while helping her find her own voice. 

Two Blonde Girls White Dress Laughing
Photo: Quentin Bacon

1. Know that it’s natural for her to blurt out things you don’t want her to.

But keep encouraging her to speak up. It’s payoff for the hours you read together! We always ask toddlers to describe what they see—What color? What shape?—so they’re doing just as we’ve trained them. Don’t stop! Your child loves showing off the verbal skill set she’s been building.

2. Play it cool.

Your toddler may overshare in public because he has little sense of another’s experience (“Mom, did you poop in the potty?”). While his goal isn’t to make you squirm or to push your buttons, he is paying attention to which phrases get a rise. If he says something shocking, stay calm and try not to clue him in to the big effects of his words or you’ll encourage encore performances. Acknowledge his comment, keep your tone of voice and facial expression neutral, and move on.

3. Nurture her curiosity.

You may want to correct your child for another person’s benefit (“Oh, don’t say that to the woman!”), but this sends the message that using her words can be bad. There’s nothing wrong with a child asking, “Are you old?” It’s factual. Ditto for other subjects you regard as sensitive but a stranger might not. Someone in a wheelchair would likely prefer a child to ask about it than have a parent shut her down. If your child does offend someone, offer an apology like, “I’m sorry. She’s 2. We’re still working on what’s okay to say.”

4. Offer positive feedback.

While your kid is bound to make impolite remarks in preschool, it’s not too early to lay the groundwork for good behavior. Focus on interactions that go well rather than ones that don’t. Watch for when he talks pleasantly with others, and praise him. In other words, catch him being good. It’s the oldest trick, but it works.

Sources: Marti Erickson, Ph.D., cohost of the Mom Enough podcast; Deborah Gilboa, M.D., author of Get the Behavior You Want ... Without Being the Parent You Hate!; Vicki Hoefle, author of The Straight Talk on Parenting; Wendy Nash, M.D., a psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute, in New York City

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