When dealing with someone that’s “old enough to know better” — your friends, your family, strangers at the mall — you expect them to act accordingly, usually. It can be a bit shaky when you’re dealing with a child though, especially when it’s someone else’s child.
A general rule of thumb is to keep in mind everyone deserves respect and children are receptive and will probably follow your lead. As a sidenote, I will admit I am not yet a parent, so this is a list of helpful hints as I know a lot of the time it can be difficult to figure out how to handle a kid when you don’t have any.
- It is not your place to discipline anyone’s child. I just want to start with that. This should solely be put on the guardians of the child. You should not place your hands on or raise your voice to a child. Even if you disagree with the parenting, it’s still not your place to fix it or parent the child.
- You should tell a child their boundaries when around you. I know many children go through phases of hitting/smacking people and it’s very inappropriate. Many parents I’ve seen think it’s just a harmless phase, but bodily autonomy should start as early as possible. Let a child know your body is not available for them to pinch, smack, or hit. Say something politely but firmly to them, “You need someone’s permission to touch them” or “Do not smack me, I do not want you to smack me, that is not nice.” Most kids aren’t used to someone beyond their parents setting up clear boundaries for them, so repeating this once or twice should let them know you are being serious.
- Say thank you, you’re welcome, and please to kids. You expect this out of them, so providing them the same esteem will plant a seed of respect for others. “Please don’t interrupt.” “Thank you for waiting.” A parent isn’t the only thing teaching a kid, so feel free to take part in ensuring there will be another polite, well-adjusted kid in the world.
- Try to understand why a child is being “difficult,” even if they are being extremely hyper or if they are throwing a tantrum. A child usually isn’t as eloquent as an adult, and they don’t know how to express in the same way we do. Is the child in a new situation, around new people, or being pressured in some way? Exciting situations will make them behave differently. You might think they are just being badly behaved but whatever situation they are in might be very overwhelming for them. Which leads to…
- It can be helpful for the parent, the child, and yourself if you distract the child. If I see a kid throwing a fit in a store, I know that’s probably extremely stressful for the parent, so I try to wave or smile at them it might just break them out of their reverie. (This can definitely help with a noisy child on a plane. Try interacting with them instead of wanting to jump out of the plane yourself. If the child is too young to interact with, keep in mind he or she is probably crying due to the change in pressure or atmosphere and this isn’t the child or the parent’s fault. I recommend noise-canceling headphones to prevent annoyance on your flights.) If you are with a friend or family member that has a youngster, try to change the subject or do something entertaining for the kid. If distraction doesn’t work and you know the child personally you can try to appeal to them by explaining the situation. Children might not understand how to act like adults but I’ve had success explaining things to children as though they are adults. Finally, if you cannot distract or explain, walk away. Sometimes, kids (like adults) just need to cool down. Let them.
- If you think you aren’t a kid person but you are in the company of children and “must” deal with them… Teach them about something you have an interest in. When you meet someone new you generally find something in common and discuss it to create camaraderie. Kids can thrive when someone shows an interest in talking to them. Teach them about a sport you like. Talk to them about a cartoon you grew up with. Vice versa, let them teach you about something they like!
What are some of your tips for interacting with children?