When relating to children, especially when they feel threatened, let them know they do not have to prove themselves to you. Let them know there are no strings attacked to what you do or to what you ask them to do.
I took Tommy, one of my tutoring students, to the library and I let him take out a book, but I never asked him if he had read it. I did not want to put him in the embarrassing position of perhaps having to admit he had not read it or didn’t like it. Our purpose in going to the library had been to enjoy special time together. I hoped he would find a book he would both enjoy and be motivated to read. I trusted if he’d read the book, he’d spontaneously give me his reactions when he brought the book back, without my having to cross-examine him.
A similar idea applies when you give a child a gift. Wait for their reply before you ask if they like it or are grateful. Basically, asking a child if they like a gift may conceivably put the child in an embarrassing situation, for they may not know how to be honest with you and still give you the polite reply they assume you are asking for. If you need to say something when the child open the gift, say something affirming like, “I want you to know I love you,” or “I was thinking of you,” or “it’s good to be celebrating today with you.”
In itself to be embarrassed is a very uncomfortable experience for any child. To be embarrassed in front of others compounds the feelings. But to be embarrassed in front of one’s peers is probably the most uncomfortable.
As a teacher, parent, and therapist, I have always tried to protect children from experiences of embarrassment, even in front of me. Embarrassment is one of the most effective ways to devastate a child’s self-image and self-esteem. If a child is a low self-esteemer, embarrassment can completely wipe out their self-esteem, at least for moment.
At home when one of the children is embarrassed or upset and doesn’t want her sisters to see her crying or to know what happened, especially if someone had made her feel stupid or unloved, I feel it is probably wise for me to take time to protect the child’s privacy while she deals with her strong feelings. If she wants to tell me about it, I try to make sure we’re in a private place where wee are not apt to be bothered and others are not likely to see her tears. For this reason, sometimes I’ve taken an embarrassed daughter into my room and closed the door, and even told her she could stay there as long as she wanted with the door closed so that nobody would bother her. I might even bring her a snack, or do something that might comfort her, like rub her back or brush her hair. In general, my intent would be to help her rebuilt the broken pieces of her self-esteem in whatever ways I could.
Self-Esteem Principle: Embarrassment can be very destructive of a child’s budding self-esteem.