Warning Kids without Embarrassing Them

As children age, they obviously become aware of the world around them, which means that they will reach a point at which they can become embarrassed when corrected.  Each will differ in the degree to which they care, but they all care.  Your life will be easier if – when they’re old enough to understand signals – you arrange a signal that indicates that it’s time to stop.

One of my children is a budding comedian and the stuff in his head is far beyond his years.  This means that he can be screamingly funny, but he will also push the boundaries when it’s neither the time nor the place.  There are moments when, in the interest of stopping a train proceeding down the wrong track, I directly and openly intercede.  The train is stopped, but the child is embarrassed and it can lead to hurt feelings and further issues.

So what can you and I do?

  • Arrange a pre-set signal between you that is understood to mean "knock it off".  A highly raised eyebrow or a brief slash of the finger across the throat would be examples.
  • Since children are generally lousy at watching others when the spotlight is on them, assure that they understand that you’ll do things to get their attention before even delivering the signal.  Cough repeatedly, clear your throat, whatever you mutually decide is okay.
  • If you do have to interrupt, try to do so in a lighter manner.  I recently warned this child off by moving my right hand – first two fingers extended – in a mock Jedi wave while intoning this is not the joke you want to be telling.  I had to do it a second time to drive it home, but it went down easier.
  • Before taking your children into places or situations, give them a "heads up" about what it is appropriate language and behavior.  Also remind them of whatever signals you agree upon.  This is frequently enough to forestall any situations.

There are bunches of adults who are lousy at controlling their mouths and actions, so don’t be surprised if the kids goof.  But with sufficient follow-up, you’ll raise kids to be adults that can control their mouths and actions.

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