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How to Handle Awkward Mom Moments

My neighbor had no clue. Here she sat, innocently sipping tea in my kitchen, while I prepared to lower the boom: Our 9-year-olds had been up to no good. I had a long list of their mischief, including throwing apples at a neighbor's freshly painted house. I had to tell her, but how? I hemmed. I hawed. I gulped my Earl Grey.

And I wondered: Do these things have to be so hard? In a word, no. Sure, sticky situations will crop up, from the backyard to the baseball diamond. But armed with the right advice, you can face them head-on. And you might even find that, when life hands you apples, a little applesauce isn't far behind.

Awkward Moment Moment No. 1

You need to tell another parent about something her kid did.

Though I didn't know it at the time, my conversation about the fruit-throwing frenzy followed the basic script that experts recommend. (Phew.) "Be friendly and stick to the first person—'I've been wanting to share something,'" says Kathleen Hall, Ph.D., CEO of The Stress Institute, in Atlanta. And if your kid is just as guilty as hers, say so up front. Done. Also on target, to my relief, was my follow-up: I said I figured she'd want to know, because I definitely wanted her to tell me anytime she found out my kid was running wild. In fact, I asked, "Is there anything he's done lately that you might like to, um, mention?" There wasn't—but we agreed to keep each other informed.

The flip side: A mom announces that she caught your kid snooping in her bedroom closet.

Go into journalist mode: Ask for details on what, when, and how. Don't be defensive—just say you really appreciate her letting you know, which helps promote future communication. And if the other parent is irate or overly critical, keep your responses minimal to calm her down. "I acted kind of dull," says a mom of two in Athens, GA, recalling a neighbor's recent accusation ("Your six-year-old forced my eleven-year-old to put on temporary tattoos!"). "I went, 'Uh-huh, uh-huh.' Eventually, she ran out of steam."

Awkward Moment Moment No. 2

Your kid spills a family secret: "Well, my daddy has been sleeping on the sofa?"

Talk privately to the other parent as soon as possible. If you don't do some immediate damage control, speculation can spread mighty fast these days. (Facebook, anyone?) Be honest--but without necessarily sharing every dicey detail, recommends Hall. For instance, you could say that you and your spouse are in a rough patch and seeing a counselor. With any secret that's very personal or painful, it's best to talk in person, notes Hall, but if you're too mortified for a face-to-face, a phone call will do. By being open, you'll engage the other parent's sympathies. Then you can suggest some two-way discretion: Please keep my secrets, and I'll do the same for you. (After all, if your kids see a lot of each other, this won't be the first time they air dirty laundry.) Such heart-to-hearts may even help turn a parent you know into a close friend.

The flip side: Your child's buddy happens to mention that his mom used to be a stripper.

Your pressing questions about pole dancing will have to wait. Unless you've just learned a secret that compromises someone's safety, mum's the word around Mom, says Hall. "Otherwise, bringing it up is just plain nosiness," she notes. But if you've found out, say, that a fellow mom has been drinking and driving in the carpool, then by all means, speak up--as Hall did. "I went over to her house and said, 'I heard you were driving and drinking a beer, and this just isn't going to work.'" Hall also warned the other moms in the carpool about the situation, and to everyone's relief, the drinking mom and her daughter decided to drop out.