How to Handle 7 Awkward Moments with Kids
What to do when your child walks in on you having sex...and 6 other "did that just happen?" situations.
One afternoon while Nicole Kay of Westfield, N.J. was tidying up her home, her 3-year-old son shrieked. Panicked, Kay ran into her bedroom to find Alex holding her vibrator (which happened to have a smiley face on it) shouting, "Why is this dolly moving, Mommy?" Flustered and embarrassed, she grabbed her "toy" from her son's hands, turned it off and said, "Uhhhh, I dunno."
While experiencing a similar scenario is no-doubt cringe-worthy, Deborah Gilboa, M.D, a board certified Family Physician and a Clinical Assistant Professor at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, assures that these horrifying moments "offer up great opportunities to instill values about boundaries, privacy, specialness and appropriate behavior." Just remember to think before you respond. "You don't want to react in a way that makes your child feel like they asked or did something wrong," she says.
And being proactive as a parent can go a long way in preventing some of these scenarios from occurring in the first place. "You can keep intimate, adult moments private by simply locking doors and drawers," says Kevin Triemstra, M.A., a psychology fellow at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del. in the division of behavioral health.
Still, kids have a way of saying and doing things that catch you off guard. Chances are you have -- or will -- experience your own flummoxing moment with your munchkin that leaves you thinking, "Wait did that really just happen?" Read on to learn how to recover from six extremely sticky situations.
Your Toddler Walks In On You and Your Partner Having Sex
It's easy to come up with a quick lie -- "we were wrestling over the remote" -- but don't. "Even young children know when they're in an awkward situation and when you're scrambling the truth," says Gilboa. "And you don't want them to think that they can't count on you for the truth." Still, you don't have to give them full disclosure. Say this: "We were cuddling. It's something special that mommies and daddies do together." And leave it at that.
Your Preschooler Discovers Your "Goodie Drawer" or One of Your Sex Toys
Take a deep breath and try not to get flustered. "Your delivery is really important, says Gail Saltz, psychiatrist and author of "Amazing You! Getting Smart about Your Private Parts." "If you freak out, your kid will think they did something wrong or bad. And you don't want them to feel bad about sex -- just that it's only for grownups." So give a brief answer and then quickly redirect your child's attention, say to an unrelated toy or book," says Gilboa. Simply say, "That's a tool." "It's a muscle massager." Then redirect: "Hey, let's go look for the cat!"
After Witnessing One of the Aforementioned Moments, Your Toddler Decides to Tell His Nanny/Teacher/Neighbor All About It
While it is embarrassing that your child just outed you, don't get hung up on what the other person thinks. "All adults know about sex," says Saltz, "so try to keep your reaction in perspective." That said, immediately acknowledge that your child is telling the truth with a simple "Yes." Then, change the subject.
Still, this introduces an opportunity to teach your toddler about privacy. "Now that your child has learned to talk, they have to learn that there are rules about talking," says Gilboa. "You can explain to a child as young as 2 or 3 that there are some things that we only discuss at home -- and nudity (just like poops and pee) is one of them." And while certain topics aren't up for discussion with the babysitter or on the playground, be sure to remind your child that there is no subject off limits with you. "Your child is going to have a lot of questions about sex in the coming years and you want to make sure that they feel comfortable to come to you first," says Gilboa.
Your Kid Is a Big Fan of Naked Time -- All the Time
You don't have a chronic nudist on your hands, but you do have to set boundaries. Explain to your child that he can be naked at home as much as he likes, as long as you're not hosting any visitors. But once he goes out in public, the clothes must stay on.
"Talking to your child about the activities, parts of their body and family information that should be kept private not only helps to prevent embarrassing situations, but is also essential in preventing dangerous situations from occurring," says Triemstra. A difficult, but important conversation, you can say something like this: "Under your underwear is private. That means no one can touch or look at this area. This is why we wear underwear and close doors when we go to the bathroom."
Your Preschooler Walks in As You're Getting Out of the Shower and Asks: "Why Don't You Have a Penis?"
Be honest, but brief. Say something that acknowledges the difference without inducing shame, such as "Because that's the way ladies are made. Cool, huh?"
"Children are keenly aware of the differences they see between themselves and others -- and they often ask questions out of that curiosity," says Triemstra. And while a basic anatomy lesson shouldn't happen as your stepping out the shower, it's "a good idea to take the time to explain the general differences between boys and girls -- while using proper terminology," says Saltz.
And this brings up a bigger question: Should you stop sharing a shower with your kid at a certain age? Gilboa says that it's fine to be naked in front of your kids, as long as neither of you feels awkward about it.
Your Preschooler Likes to Park his Hand Down His Pants -- Even on the Playground
Gilboa says that the first wave of childhood masturbation peaks between the ages of 3 and 5, so it's not abnormal to see a kid innocently rubbing themselves. "It's completely natural," she says. Still, if junior is playing with himself in public or in front of the family, ask him to take his hands out of his pants. Then explain, "Touching your privates is a private thing. If you'd like to do that, please do it when you're alone in your room or wait until we get home." Again, don't make a big deal out of it, says Saltz. "The more attention -- even if it's negative -- your child gets for his behavior, the more likely they are to continue it," she says.
What's been your most awkward moment? Share below!