We traveled across the world and stayed with my brother-in-law’s family for five weeks this summer. His gang of six gave up their bedrooms and shared their food and washing machine (very important) with us without complaint. The least I could do was take my kid out of the living room while he mopped the floor.

Not as easy as you might think! After several requests to “please go outside so uncle can mop the floor” failed, I realized that something more was going on for my little guy, and he needed my help. I moved in close, crouched down to his eye level and asked him to please come outside with me.

“No! I’m not going out!” he yelled.

“Yes, sweet boy. We need to get out of here, so that uncle can wash the floor. He can’t do it while we’re standing in the middle of the room with our dirty feet.”

“No! I’m not going out!” he yelled again, arms crossed in front of him.

Gently, I scooped him up and brought him outside with me, but the second I put him down, he bolted right back into the living room. His filthy feed stood out, even against the backdrop of the rust-colored floor. Again, I whisked him up into my arms and brought him outside.

This time when I set him down, I was prepared to set a firmer limit. I positioned myself between him and the door and used my body to keep him from entering.

“I can’t let you in, sweetie. Uncle needs to mop the floor.”

He cried and screamed and sweated and pushed against me, trying with all his might to get back into the house. I stayed firm with my limit, but kept my voice soft and my eyes on his, despite his efforts to avoid my gaze. I just Listened. After ten minutes or so of lots of noise, my boy took a few deep breaths and calmed down. He looked me in the eye and said, “I’m going to play with my cousins,” and he headed down the road.

I don’t know what was really bothering him, but I know that his insistence on doing something he knew I wouldn’t allow was a call for help, and I know that lovingly setting a firm limit was the medicine he needed. It felt great to be able to be present with him when his emotional life got tough, though I must admit I felt self-conscious about the public outburst and my inability to get my son out of the way quickly and quietly.

Drowning in my embarrassment, I turned towards my brother-in-law and apologized for my son’s behavior and for all the noise. He looked at me and said, “I would have done exactly the same thing…but with fewer words.” I let let go of my breath and relaxed into noticing I was being accepted, despite my worries to the contrary. And I took note to talk less next time. He was absolutely right. The fewer words the better!

Have you ever felt embarrassed dealing with your child’s big feelings in public? Click “comment” below to share your experiences. I’d love to hear!