Mom Etiquette for 5 Tricky Parenting Dilemmas

Mom Etiquette for 5 Tricky Parenting Dilemmas

What to do? What to say? Experts tell us how to handle the most awkward mom moments.

By: Heather Chaet

You turn red. Maybe you stammer. You definitely just don’t know what to do. At the park or the playground, at the family reunion or the school bake sale, we’ve all been in at least one since becoming a mom. I’m talking the Tricky Parenting Dilemma, those situations you find yourself in what can only be described as awkward and uncomfortable. Who needs some help navigating those touchy moments? Check out these mom etiquette tips for some common tricky parenting dilemmas. Consider them our holiday gift to you!

Tricky Parenting Dilemma no. 1: You and your young daughter are standing in an elevator with a woman who is overweight. Your daughter says, “Mom, that woman is fat.” You know the woman overheard the comment, and you still have 23 floors to travel. What do you do?

Young kids who make comments like this are not trying to be hurtful. They are just trying to make sense of their world. Jessica Margolin, professional consultant and freelance writer on family issues, suggests turning this dilemma into a learning conversation within earshot of the person. “If your child says something such as ‘That lady is fat or ugly,’ respond with something like ‘Is she? I don't think what people are like on the outside is something everyone sees the same way. It's like when colors can be either blue or green.’” Margolin says you can then add something positive about the person, like that she looks nice, sharply dressed, powerful or good hearted. She says trying to insert a bit of levity to the situation also helps. “Also add that the person looks like she is patient with young children who are having teaching moments.” Margolin explains this same tip works if your child comments on someone who is old or disabled. Acknowledge your child’s observation, but add that the elderly person probably has learned a lot in his years or that the person’s disability doesn’t mean his or her “inside spirit” isn’t the same as yours.

Tricky Parenting Dilemma no. 2: Your daughter is opening her presents at her birthday party. Aunt Rose’s gift of a scratchy wool sweater with little appliques of beavers isn’t quite what she had hoped for, and your daughter’s attitude after opening it reflects her disappointment. What do you do?

At some point, everyone learns the valuable social skill of keeping certain thoughts to him- or herself. All this tricky dilemma requires is taking your daughter aside to have a little quiet conversation about the old “it’s the thought that counts” mantra. Tell your child you understand the gift is not her favorite, but that Aunt Rose tried to select something she thought would be nice. Encouraging a follow-up thank you to Aunt Rose as the birthday cake is sliced will help smooth any ruffled feathers. Another way to avoid this situation: Have a little reminder talk before the party starts with your child about what to say when opening gifts.

Tricky Parenting Dilemma no. 3: One of your son’s good buddies is acting up at your house during a play date. He’s jumped on the couch, chased the cat, and just hit your son in the leg with a toy truck (on purpose). His mom is one of your good friends. What do you do?

Most of us feel a little uncomfortable about disciplining another person’s child. But, remember, in your house, it’s your rules, so remind little Johnny of what is allowed and what isn’t, especially that your home has a “no hitting” policy. Encourage him to apologize to your son and play mediator to get the boys back on a fun track. If the behavior continues, diffuse the situation by suggesting they play another game or take a break for a snack. When your mommy friend comes to pick him up, casually mention you had to “redirect” little Johnny a bit as there were some not-so-great moments of behavior, but that all was back to normal after a few homemade cookies.

More from P&G everyday: Negotiating Playground Politics in Any Situation

Tricky Parenting Dilemma no. 4: You and your friend are chatting in her kitchen as both of your boys play in the living room. All of a sudden, you hear a large crash. You rush in, and see your son has accidentally broken a lamp. What do you do?


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Realizing your child did something wrong, even by accident, creates that icky sinking feeling in every parent’s gut. Parenting psychologist and author Susan Bartell says to offer to pay for the lamp. “If your friend absolutely refuses to accept your offer of reimbursement, send them a nice gift, along with a 'I'm sorry’ note or picture from your child.”

Margolin agrees: “You apologize profusely and offer to make it good in some way. If you can replace or refund the cost of the item, then offer that and be at least a little insistent about it.” If they refuse, she suggests “repaying” it in a non-monetary way, such as inviting the other family over to dinner.

Tricky Parenting Dilemma no. 5: You are chatting with your son’s teacher at pick-up time. All of a sudden, you hear your son say one of those words, the kind he’s overheard when you stubbed your big toe or spilled coffee on your new sweater. Mortified, you don’t even want to look to see if his teacher is amused or shocked. What do you do?

There’s a reason why the phrase “Kids say the darnedest things” bubbles up time and time again. Remember, that teacher probably has heard it before (or worse). Humor is the only way to go when dealing with this dilemma. Blame your husband’s tendency to yell at the TV while watching football, tell her you have a salty-talking parakeet, or feign surprise and offer an “I don’t know where he could have heard that!” with a laugh. As you give a tiny shrug, smile and say that you think it must be time to get going. When you and your son are alone, don’t make a big deal out of it, but remind him that those words are for grown-up use only.

What is your most awkward mommy moment?

Heather Chaet documents her mini parenting successes, epic mommy fails, and everything in between for a plethora (love that word!) of publications and websites such as CafeMom, New York Family, and AdWeek. While her online persona is found at, Heather lives in New York City with her film director husband and one insanely curious, cat-obsessed daughter.

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