Embarrassing toddler habits

by | Feb 4, 2020

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Toddlers say the darnedest things – and usually at the worst possible time. Yashmitha Padayachee gives you some pointers on how to cope with them.

“Hey, Mummy! Is this the annoying lady you told Daddy about?” she says, pointing to my boss. Hands up if you’ve been there and had to hide your face in shame. Kids really do say and do the darnedest things.

Here’s a mini list of some of those cringeworthy public moments and how we should aim to deal with them.

She said what?!

Kids are listening, always listening. Their sharp, inquisitive minds are lapping up everything you say and do. So be careful of what you say in front of them, and most importantly, who you speak about in front of them. This is one where prevention is better than cure.

Rather avoid gossiping, or even speaking about sensitive adult topics such as finances or health, or other more inappropriate subjects in front of your toddler. The chances of an embarrassing public remark will be so much smaller.

While we all painstakingly drill good manners into our toddlers day and night, the fear of impolite behaviour is a constant threat. Like little helicopter mommies, we find ourselves reminding them to greet, thank, or apologise where necessary. Sometimes they drop the ball and the little reminder is all that is needed to keep them in line. Keep in mind kiddies can get grumpier and less likely to remember their manners when they are tired or hungry.

Tiny Temper Tantrum

They call it the Terrible Twos and it can come with many tiny temper tantrums. Some children’s temper tantrums last all the way up to five years old, while other toddlers don’t go through these tantrums at all.

Sometimes these tantrums happen at home and sometimes they can occur in a public setting, which can be extremely embarrassing for any parent. Dealing with this can sometimes be to our detriment, because it may mean leaving a store with half the shopping not done, or ending an outing sooner than was planned. However, it is important to teach your child that these tantrums do have consequences.

It is also important to teach your child that tantrums are not the only way to express their feelings, but there are other more appropriate ways to express themselves. For example, you could say, “I know how frustrated or cross you are. It is tough to be tired after such a long day. Mommy gets upset then too! Mommy will help you to rest when we get home.”

Just remember that tantrums should never be rewarded. Handing them a treat or toy to get them to behave is a sure path to madness, and possibly bankruptcy.

Have a bite

For the love of all things tiny, has anyone figured out why toddlers like to bite each other? If you’re the mommy of the biter, the first thing you should do is apologise to the victim, and hopefully try to get your little one to do the same. It is important to make him realise that biting hurts and is not how we should behave. Please don’t demonstrate this by biting your child.

So here are a few tips on how you should react to these and other similarly embarrassing incidents.

Just don’t walk away and pretend the child doesn’t belong to you, just in case the thought does cross your mind!

Keep calm and carry on

It is important to constantly remind ourselves of where our toddlers are in their emotional and cognitive development. Between the ages of two and five, most children have learnt the use of their language skills, but don’t possess the ability to inhibit what they say: this will only develop in the early school years.

Remember that it is natural for small children to speak their minds, ask challenging questions and say embarrassing things. A cool and calm demeanour will go a long way in dealing with what is sure to be the first of many incidents.

Don’t add to the panic and mayhem, as this will only make them giggle. Tackle it logically: if he shows you a booger from a freshly picked nose, hand him a tissue.

Have a chat

There’s no shame in accepting the embarrassment and tackling it head on. A simple “Honey, that’s not a nice thing to say. We will talk about this when we get home,” (followed by the infamous mom stare) can hopefully defuse the immediate embarrassment.

Some incidents may require a more firm conversation, and an explanation of why this particular behaviour cannot be tolerated. Children feel more empowered when they are aware of a situation.

Communication at home is also important: prepare your kids before putting them in a potentially embarrassing situation. For example, let them know if you are going to a new friend’s house for supper, and ask them not to fuss over the food. It might also be helpful to have a chat with the new friends to make them aware of the age-appropriate behaviour they can expect from your toddler.

Be consistent

Don’t make promises you’re not willing to follow up on. If repeated behaviour means no screen or device time, or no visits to a favourite play spot, then this consequence needs to be put into place. Don’t allow a habit in one venue and not another. It is difficult for younger kids to distinguish between these different sets of rules and the uncertainty can cause confusion.

Public judgment and the presence of other parents with their own parenting styles can sometimes pressure us into not reacting the way we should or usually do. But persevere and you will reap the rewards … eventually.


No, you don’t have to register at a store closest to you or swipe a card when you fill up with petrol. But a nice reward chart to keep track of each day that went by without an incident is a nice visual motivational tool.

Be mindful of when you should and shouldn’t reward behaviour. Bad behaviour should never be rewarded, nor should we inculcate an environment where every single good deed means a treat or toy.

Always keep their behaviour in perspective. Everything is a learning and growing opportunity. Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favour.