There are some people who have a GIFT when it comes to relating to small children. My mother-in-law is like that. I sometimes kindly refer to her as a “kid magnet” because small children gravitate to her.
Mostly, I think it’s because kids sense that she genuinely cares about what they have to say.
Since I currently have a 5-year-old, I thought I’d share a few tips if you’re at a loss about relating to children. I’m also writing this to remind myself how to talk to wee ones after my children are grown. Do you ever notice that many grandparents and older adults have all but forgotten how to talk to kids? I pray that I never lose the ability to gently and humbly connect with the smallest ones in society.
1. Give a compliment. Don’t we all yearn to hear words that uplift and encourage us? Children are the very same. Don’t be stingy about passing on a good word. “My, what a good reader you are!” “You have impeccable manners!” “How creative of you to color the rose petals in shades of dark and light!” “You must have worked hard on that project!”
2. Acknowledge grown-upness. If you have ever been a kid (ahem – that’s all of us), then surely you remember how you pined to be just one year older. While we certainly don’t want to wish away childhood, we can recognize physical, social, spiritual, or emotional maturity as circumstances dictate. “I am impressed at your mathematical skills!” “Your legs are so long and strong now!” “How mature it was of you to give up your place in line!”
3. Include in the conversation. So often, adults talk “above” kids. In fact, I have been guilty of this very thing. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to say to a child – especially to younger children. But do try. You don’t have to lower your vocabulary or change your tone of voice. You just have to NOTICE that they are there.
4. Ask an opinion. What better way to show that you appreciate a person’s thoughts than to ask their perspective? For instance, “Which of these colors would you choose to paint this room?” “If you had to plan the menu this week, what would you put on it?” “Do you think this movie is a good pick for kids?” Of course, you may not actually act upon their recommendations…but you might be surprised at how intuitive and creative children are. As Fyodor Dostoyevsky said so well, “Grown-up people do not know that a child can give exceedingly good advice even in the most difficult case.”
5. Be over-the-top. Silly, that is. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. Use big voices when you read. Play “pretend” along with them. Ask for a high five – to the side, up high, down low, toooo slow. A word of caution, however: don’t confuse uplifting humor with sarcasm and perpetual teasing. Veiled insults don’t do anyone favors. 5-year-olds take most words quite literally and would rather be regarded with respect than laughed at.
6. Be slow to become angry. Anger grips hearts like almost nothing else. If children are afraid that you will yell or rage, they will build a wall. Work on being the kind of person who reacts to mistakes and messes with grace and quietude.
7. Get down on their level. If possible, crouch down and make eye contact.
8. Give a gift. I’m not talking bribery. Just pass along small treasures. A pack of gum, a special stone, a catalog to cut pictures out of, or a pine cone. The simplest things really will make an impact. For awhile, we kept a bin of snacks (fruit leathers, granola bars, individual bags of pretzels) and small toys/stickers in our pantry. When a child had to leave our house after coming over to play, we would bring out the bin and let the child choose something to take with him. It was a good way to make goodbyes pleasant.
If you think about it, all eight of these practices are the same ones we appreciate in adults. We like adults who listen well, who are generous with encouraging words, and who are thoughtful enough to ask opinions. We also like adults who can laugh at themselves and who will let loose and be a little crazy. The truth is: kids are no different.
Who do you know that relates to children particularly well? What do they do to make kids feel at ease?