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The Tipping Point
You knew this day would come, but did it have to be so soon? You're out in public with your child and all of a sudden you hear, "You're embarrassing me!"
What did you do? Most likely, your parental faux pas won't scar your child for life, but as she grows, she'll begin moving away from family familiarity towards greater independence. This is all perfectly normal. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, a child's struggle towards independence can include rudeness, a desire to be left alone and a heightened sensitivity to their new peer group.
What To Do?
This is a troublesome combination—and tough for parents to take. Most moms and dads aren't intentionally embarrassing; parents sometimes don't realize how their behavior affects their kid. The key to managing meltdowns is to be aware of the root causes, and understanding what triggers these bouts of unbearable embarrassment.
Start by checking out these common, everyday situations; along with some sensible coping strategies.
Don't Sing in Public
When out with your child, the prime directive for public behavior is to remember that you're not alone.
Singing while out with your youngster is a no-no ... even if you have impressive chops. In a recent interview, the Academy Award-winner Reese Witherspoon, who nabbed honors for her voice, says her daughter begged her not to mortify her by singing.
Avoid Your Kid's Friends
Back when you had a toddler, it was perfectly okay to walk along talking to yourself, dressed in 10-year-old sweatpants while you burped at will. Those days are gone, at least when you're with a sensitive youngster.
Keep a healthy distance when you bump into any of your child's friends in a public place, like a mall or park. If it's unavoidable, say a quick hello but don't dawdle; your child will thank you later.
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Keep It Stylish
Dress like you're out with a friend. There's no need to pull out the pumps and party dress, but make an effort to shelve the sweatpants for a public appearance or birthday party with your little one in tow. It's not only embarrassing for your child to have you show up looking sloppy—it's disrespectful to her. Gussy up to make her feel like she's worth the effort.
Avoid Last-Minute Goodbyes
You're driving your student to school and everyone's in a great mood—but when you get there your child gets quiet and cranky. She demands to hop out of the car early, or runs off without so much as goodbye. What did you do? Absolutely nothing! Your child just doesn't want to be seen with you. Virtually all kids of a certain age will disown their parents the minute their friends are in sight.
Don't yell after your little one, especially within earshot of the other kids. This will deepen her embarrassment and could cause anger and resentment. Just let her go. There's no last-minute instruction that's so important that you have to risk a meltdown of mortification.
Create a Reasonable Schedule
Try and work out a reasonable arrangement for school pickups and drop-offs. If your child wants you to let her out a block or two early, talk it over together and take her feelings seriously. This is great time to bring up rules, safety and responsibility issues.
Don't Make Mortifying Threats
Never threaten to punish your child with things that you know will embarrass her—it may be a joke to you, but it's life or death to your little one. For example, if your child can't get rid of you quickly enough, don't say, "If you keep that up, I'm going to walk you into the classroom myself with my arms around your shoulders singing the latest Lady Gaga song." Absurd? Of course, but your kid doesn't know that!
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Avoid Surprises at School
If you're at school during business hours, don't "pop-in" the classroom. If you see your child on the playground with a group of friends, give her space to socialize.
Cheer Quietly at School
Don't be the loudest parent there. Whatever the event, you can cheer and show support, but don't overdo it—for your student's sake. Watch what other parents are doing and try not to "stand out" too much.
Keep It Civil
Never argue with another adult in front of your child or her friends. If you have an issue with a teacher, talk to her in private. If you have a problem with another parent (something that's becoming all too common at school sporting events) don't start an argument. Again, it may be a minor thing to you, but it can be beyond embarrassing to your kid and can even have long-term negative effects.
Whether you're a bona fide "cool mom" or simply tiptoeing around situations that inflame tween angst, remember: there are no hard and fast rules for avoiding the label of world's most embarrassing parent.
Just remember, it's not your fault—most of the time—it's just a natural part of growing up. As your kid grows up and out of this phase, she'll quit harping on your eccentricities—and will most likely embrace the quirks that make you mom.