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I have a parenting situation where I'm unsure of the right behavior.

My 18 month old child is usually shy and doesn't mingle with people easily, but if someone spends time with him and goes a little slow, he becomes friendly and responds.

Few days back we went to a 3 year old's birthday party. There were many children of different ages, mostly between 1 to 4 years.

My kid wanted to play, but as there were many unknown faces he roamed around holding my finger (I tried many times but he was not ready to let go of my finger while walking around.) He danced to his favorite songs and played, but all the while with me or his mother nearby.

Suddenly he mistook my friend for me, and holding his finger started to dance and play. Everyone in the party knew he had made a mistake and all were amused.

Soon he saw me in front and realized that he was holding someone else's hand. Everyone burst into laughter (including me), but he started crying. I didn't like that. Was I wrong to laugh?

A similar incident happened at a store where the light was dim and he mistook a lady for his mother, and when he realized his mistake, he started crying again. I really felt bad when he cried and I told him, "It's OK", and tried changing the mood.

What are some of the ways I can best respond to him when such a situation arises? How can I teach him not to cry, or to believe that he has done nothing wrong when something like this happens?

  • My 10 year old sun also cries, if he realizes that he made a mistake. It is no fun to fail. How would you feel, if you realize that you are too dump or too clumsy for something. – ceving Aug 24 '18 at 12:49
  • Example: I told my son the chess rules years ago but we did not play for some months. In a test in school, the chess rules have been explained on the worksheet and the children should validate some movements. He did not read the rules, because he thought he knows them. Next day he came to me with the test, and said, the teacher has marked his answer wrong although it is right. I told him, he was wrong, because he confound rock and bishop and he cried. It is no fun to fail. The age does not matter. – ceving Aug 24 '18 at 13:09
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What your son is doing is simply expressing his emotions in the only way he knows how right now. Crying is one of the simplest ways to express emotions, and one that is hardwired into us from birth. We cry when we're sad; we cry when we're happy ("tears of joy"); we cry at weddings and funerals. Crying isn't something to be worried about per se. Your son simply hasn't developed enough to know how to process his emotions sufficiently to do anything else.

What you can do is start helping your son process those emotions. Give him the tools to deal with them. Try to understand what he's feeling at that moment, and do a few important things.

  1. Validate his emotions. Emotions are facts, not something we directly control; he's scared, he's sad, he's embarrassed, all of those feelings are true. So, validate his emotions. Don't tell him not to feel scared or sad; tell him you understand his feelings, and show him that you understand.
  2. Help him understand why he feels that way. A lot of the difficulty for a younger child is not understanding why. Why does he feel embarrassed when everyone laughs? Why does he feel sad when he gets confused about who mommy is? Is he sad because he thinks he did something wrong? Or more likely, he's confused about how he could have ended up in that situation, or worried he might be lost.
  3. Help him understand how to move on from that emotion. He's embarrassed, so tell him about a time you were embarrassed, and what you did. He's worried about being lost, so tell him about a time you got lost or confused.
  4. Tell him how you feel. That can help ground him, and help him understand what's going on. If he went off with another woman briefly, tell him about how you were worried for him, and felt bad that you lost track of him. If he was embarrassed about the laughing, tell him that you thought what he did was very cute, and that made you happy, hence the laughing.
  5. Give him tools to handle these things on his own. If he's worried about being lost, tell him what to do when he's lost. My children and I still to this day (5 and 7) have talks every time we go to a new place about what to do and where to go if they get lost. If he's embarrassed, tell him what he can do to overcome the embarrassment - how do you handle it when people laugh at a dumb thing you did? Laugh with them, perhaps; feel sad but confident you won't make the same mistake again; whatever works for you.

There are a lot of resources on the internet about helping toddlers around your son's age or a little older manage their feelings. This parents.com slideshow is a good start; This pbs.org article is a bit more aimed at your age, but has similar advice. Television isn't a great idea at your son's age, but if you are letting him watch some, find a show that talks openly about emotions - Daniel Tiger is a good one (PBS), following in the footsteps of Mr. Rogers who also was excellent for that.

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    I like this answer, but I think a lot of it is not quite developmentally appropriate for 18 months. 'Tools to handle', 'understanding', and 'verbalizing emotions' are still a ways off. The only purpose of my comment is to tame expectations at such an early age, not in any way to diminish the usefulness of this answer. – Adam Heeg Aug 20 '18 at 20:26
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+200

Your son finds security in staying close to you and mom and when he realizes he's mistakenly reached out to someone who is not mom or dad he feels insecure. This is a healthy reaction that demonstrates good parenting habits. Ref: Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome

When your son makes this type of mistake acknowledge how your son feels - scared, insecure, embarrassed then reassure him of your presence and security with smiles and interactions that direct his attention away from his mistake onto something that is enjoyable. Try not to minimize how he feels, remember that to him, we are giants that provide protection, love and support. You are is world and when he misses that he is literally losing his universe.

As he grows, he will gain confidence to venture further away naturally. You'll even notice that he will start to walk further away from you then look back to make sure you are still there - you are his safe point.

From the paper:

Infants whose caregivers consistently respond to distress in sensitive or ‘loving’ ways, such as picking the infant up promptly and reassuring the infant, feel secure in their knowledge that they can freely express negative emotion which will elicit comforting from the caregiver (9). Their strategy for dealing with distress is ‘organized’ and ‘secure’. They seek proximity to and maintain contact with the caregiver until they feel safe. The strategy is said to be ‘organized’ because the child ‘knows’ exactly what to do with a sensitively responsive caregiver, ie, approach the caregiver when distressed.

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    I interpreted that differently, but on reconsidering, I agree that it does indicate sensitive parenting (though I would not have generalized.) I added in the significant excerpt from the paper. Thanks for adding a reference. – anongoodnurse Aug 20 '18 at 18:41

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