by Rachael Moshman
There’s always, at least, one kid nose picking on stage during the holiday recital. You either breathe a sigh of relief because it's not your kid or wave frantically for him or her to cut it out because it is.
Inappropriate social behaviors are something all kids embarrass parents with from time to time – and often it’s in a situation where the humiliation factor will be extra strong. Children do what feels good and may seem natural at the time. It takes some time to learn about boundaries and social expectations.
Some of the most common behaviors that make parents cringe include nose picking, spitting, putting fingers in the mouth, licking things, lifting up a shirt, “adjusting” clothing, picking scabs and touching other people. Dr. Serena Paterson, Ph.D., psychologist and author of “Hunter, Faith and the Ancestors,” says it’s important to deal with these issues quietly and without shaming the child.
She suggests giving the child a reminder. “Some parents have a visual signal, such as mom pulling her own ear, for when speaking about the behavior aloud would draw further attention,” Paterson says.
Early childhood expert Colleen Payne is the director of Montessori Country Day School and has seen about every possible inappropriate social behavior many times in over a decade of working with young children. “When children are learning social norms, gentle reminders that do not call undue attention to the issue are best,” she says. “For most children, overreacting is unnecessary and can cause them to repeat the behavior to seek attention.”
Some of the clear phrases she suggests include:
- “Please let you shirt cover your body to keep it safe.”
- “We use a tissue to clean our nose. Let me get you one.”
- “Food needs to stay inside our mouths while we are eating.”
- “Hands may go in pockets, but not in our underwear.”
- “Please stay in your chair right now.”
Sometimes children struggle with appropriate social behavior longer than expected. When a child is not learning social cues, not responding to redirection, or is unmanageable at home and at school despite consistent reinforcement, it may be time to talk to your pediatrician about your concerns, Payne says. She suggests documenting examples from home, school and other settings to help your child's doctor direct you to the right kind of specialist if necessary.
Patterson recommends parents try to determine if the child is continuing the undesirable behavior because they can't stop or because they don't want to stop. If the child is under six, he or she just might need more time to catch up to their peers socially. She recommends seeing a pediatrician if the child is six or over and still seems unable to suppress unacceptable behaviors in public. However, she adds, “If the child seems to have control and refuses to stop the behavior anyway, a counselor can help, even if the child is under 6.” If you aren't sure if the behavior is intentional, consult your pediatrician.
Children outgrow most gross habits like nose picking with time and redirection. In the meantime, know you aren't alone in being embarrassed by your sweet little darlings. Just think, you'll have funny stories to tell for decades after they grow up.
Rachel Moshman is a freelance writer.