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Mortifying Moments

When Susan Carlton of Atlanta took her 5-year-old daughter, Annie, to a local diner for lunch recently, she never imagined that a spilled milk shake would ruin their outing.

A few years earlier, Annie might have cried when a vanilla shake went crashing to the floor because it meant she had nothing left to drink. But that day, when all eyes in the restaurant focused on her, she turned bright red and tears sprang to her eyes. "I couldn't figure out what the big deal was at first," says Carlton. "Then I realized I hadn't seen her embarrassed before."

"When self-absorbed toddlers become social preschoolers, they want to be liked and are keenly aware of how others perceive them," says Abraham Bartell, M.D., director of the pediatric psychiatry consultation service at Mount Sinai Medical Center, in New York City.

Kids become embarrassed for some of the same reasons adults do, such as too much teasing, unwanted attention, or being laughed at, even if it's good-natured. Something you might shrug off, though, can be mortifying to a kid, so keep an eye out for the way your child usually reacts. When shamed, some kids cry or throw tantrums, and others try to laugh off their red face.

Respond positively to get your child to stop blushing. "When this happens, talk to her about it and let her know it's okay to feel the way she does and that you love her," says Dr. Bartell. Tell her a story about a time you were humiliated and explain how you felt. With a simple "See, things like that even happen to Mommy," you'll help her see she's not alone  -- and that embarrassing incidents are short-lived.