Parenting / Dr. Gail Gross

How to Handle 4 Painfully Awkward Parenting Moments

November 23, 2015

Expert shares tips on turning four uncomfortable situations into teachable parenting moments.

Your child walks in on you making love. He loudly asks about another shopper’s disability in the grocery store. Yes, we’ve all endured brutally awkward parenting moments when we wish the floor would open and swallow us up. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, these sticky situations can actually serve as teachable moments for our children and bonding experiences between parent and child.

It’s all about being proactive. “I always tell parents, and I tell children, be prepared,”Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed, psychologist and expert on relationships and family development, told That means working with your child ahead of time to help them understand what’s appropriate and what isn’t.

But even if you provide that structure, kids will be kids. Here’s what you can do when awkwardness strikes:

Awkward Situation #1

Your child says something rude about another person in public, like ‘Why is that woman fat?’”

First and foremost, Dr. Gross says, “Stay calm. Don’t be reactive. And remember, you are entitled to parent.” So the priority is addressing the bad behavior with your child, which is best done in private. Say, “Please excuse my child.” Then change their environment; like, escape to the frozen food section! Now, correct: “No honey, we don’t say that type of thing. That’s not nice.” Ultimately, you’re trying to teach empathy, so your child understands another person’s feelings were hurt by what he said. “Ask your child to apologize if you think you have their full attention,” says Dr. Gross.

Awkward Situation #2

Your child acts rudely while at a friend’s house for dinner, saying something like “That looks disgusting!”

Although you may worry how your child’s rudeness reflects upon your parenting, Dr. Gross cautions, “Don’t be reactive; don’t yell; don’t go down to your child’s level.” Instead, excuse yourself with your child, to help her shift her emotions; remember, correcting a child in front of others is shaming. Tell your child what she said hurt the hostess’s feelings. Then ask, “Are you feeling better? Can we return to the table now?” But first, build trust with your child by assuring her, “When we get home, I’ll fix something for you.”

Awkward Situation #3

Your child walks in on you making love.

How you respond to this awkward parenting moment depends upon the age of the child. A 2- or 3-year-old won’t need much of an explanation. But as kids get older, Dr. Gross says, “It’s very hard to be dishonest.” She recommends offering age-appropriate information. “Mommy and daddy were cuddling. Grown-up mommies and daddies do this.” The best thing you can do is matter-of-factly answer their question. “Children will take their cue from you,” Dr. Gross says. So stay calm, and move on.

Awkward Situation #4

Your child reveals something private about you in a group, like “My mom likes to sleep naked.”

As parents, we have to have a sense a humor if we want to survive, and Dr. Gross recommends calling upon that sense of humor in moments like these. “Make a joke, then say, ‘Come with me, young lady.’” Remove your child from the group, and remind her, “There are things we say in the family, that we don’t say outside the family.” Make sure your child knows they can say anything they want to you, always, but private family matters are just for the family. Then, they have to come back and apologize.

In the end, parenting will provide an endless gag reel of awkward moments, but it’s up to you to use these situations to help your children grow. What’s more, try to understand more about yourself in these instances. “Learn what your triggers are, and work on that,” advises Dr. Gross.

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