I think all moms can relate to this scenario: you’re out in public, and your child does something embarrassing. Like, TOTALLY embarrassing. You go through extreme internal mom paranoia. You question every lesson you tried to teach your kid. You finally get to the point of asking, “Where did I go wrong??! I thought I was a good parent.”

Let me reassure you. You’re a great parent. Your child is just a child, going through typical child development.

Social pressures

When kids are tiny infants, there’s no pressure of school or interactions with other kids. There’s no pressure to consider how your infant is perceived. It’s just a cute baby in a stroller. As they grow, though, external forces like social settings can affect their behaviors. Moreover, your child’s behaviors at this point of child development can affect everyone around them. During this stage I’d venture to say there is more pressure on the parents than the child. That needs to change.

Shame on them, shame on me?

I know this from experience. I have a son who, at this point in his development, has been known to take a ball from another kid and run. My people-focused, shame-based feelings lead to introspective questions like: “What do I do? How do I react in a way that doesn’t make me look bad?” In those moments it’s all about our own emotional states. Our responses have nothing to do with our children. Those responses do, however, have everything to do with where we are within ourselves, and how we feel others view us.

When moms worry about judgment from other adults, they shy away from correcting bad behavior. Instead they choose to save face and allow those behaviors continue indefinitely. Healthy and loving discipline is often absent in these moments all because of the fear of shame. Don’t be unfair to yourself! Your kid’s negative choices don’t reflect bad parenting! Different adults will handle situations in various ways, but ignoring unwanted behavior is definitely not the answer.

I have been told that I’m really hard on my boys. Not everyone agrees with with how I deal with their behavior (and not everyone will agree with you). But I believe brushing bad behaviors under the table will inevitably cause them to happen again. So, I choose to be overly vocal with them: “Absolutely not! Give him back his ball. You’re in time-out because of your choice. Sit down, and let’s talk about better choices next time.”

Choose to act

Look, a kid is a kid is a kid. This is what kids do at this point of child development. They’re discovering and testing boundaries at every turn. As a mom, I get it. They need to learn, and they learn by making choices—sometimes not great ones. But I can’t allow my kids to challenge me mentally, emotionally or socially to learn those lessons. Discipline, I believe, is a catalyst for healthy processing.

The root of who we are as human beings is this: sometimes we make good decisions, and sometimes we make bad decisions. They don’t make us good or bad people. Our kids are not bad kids, but particular things they do can be. A good choice for me is pointing out the negative in the moment, even if it hurts.

Parents, stop being embarrassed to correct your kids in public. Don’t avoid hard situations. When you see something, especially when it comes to YOUR kids, say something and ACT! Setting boundaries isn’t a bad thing at all. Whether it is a balloon, another kid’s toy, or even a sharp object, kids want what they want. Our job as adults is always going to be sticking to those boundaries. Wisdom is a skill our kids just haven’t mastered yet in this phase of child development.

Our charge

So no, my child is no angel. I don’t expect him to be. I do, however, have requirements of myself as his mom. I feel obligated to ensure my child grows up to be a respectful human. That requires me to address negative behaviors in the moment. I choose to do that with or without watchful eyes as we ride our bikes or get froyo at that little shop we love so much. I won’t stand under a cloud of shame that does not belong to me, and neither should you.

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