My son is 3 years old and nothing makes him happier than running up and talking to every single person he sees. It’s something that I understand can be a little jarring to strangers out and about with things to do, but it’s something I love about him because he is so different from me.
I am much more introverted in person, but he is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and has a passion for talking to other kids and adults. He invites other kids to play and he shares his toys without abandon. It’s a complete turnaround in his personality because he was once really shy. He has really blossomed since he started preschool at the beginning of the year, as they are big on talking about feelings there and making friends.
So while I know that strangers aren’t responsible for the psychological well-being of my child, I have seen a variety of adult reactions to his outgoing personality. Most people are great, but some ignore him completely and act like he’s a real nuisance.
If he were overly bothersome or crazy, I would try to reign him in a bit, but he isn’t. He’s simply a child that is excited about life and he likes to talk about it. And I want him to hang on to that as long as he can before the world tells him to be quiet.
We don’t venture out for treats very much, but one afternoon we went for ice cream and we sat near the entrance to the ice cream shop. When people walked in, he held his ice cream way up high and exclaimed “I got ice cream!!” Yes, that much is obvious. But a mother and her elementary-aged son walked in, looked at him like he was a pest and kept on walking. He thought they didn’t hear him, so he said it two more times in a louder voice. They kept walking, ordered their ice cream and then they sat down next to us, talking to each other and continuing to ignore him. And I know they could hear him. God could hear him.
Please don’t ignore a young child that talks to you in public. Maybe you’re worried that if you look at them, they’ll follow you around or continue to pester you, but please don’t ignore them. Your reaction to them helps shape their picture of what the world looks like and it matters. I got the hint and redirected him, but it was so rude.
There has never been a more important time to show examples of good manners and communication skills in this world, in my opinion. The world isn’t perfect and they will learn that in time, but to just completely ignore a child and pretend they don’t exist? Come on. It takes almost nothing to manage a polite smile and go on with your day
An older woman walked into the ice cream shop and loved talking with him and shared in his excitement, and she invited him to keep talking to her by asking him questions. He thankfully didn’t miss much of a beat with the other pair, though he did look at them curiously.
Older kids really notice adult reactions, too. My 9-year-old is a Boy Scout and every year they step out of their comfort zones to try and approach strangers to buy popcorn for their annual fundraiser.
Not everyone appreciates their presence at the entrance or exits of the store, and it’s understandable that not everyone wants or can afford to buy at any given time. A polite “no, thank you” or “not right now” is perfectly acceptable, but time and time again full-grown adults would ignore the boys completely and pretend they didn’t hear them when it was obvious they did.
Have we lost the basic skills of communication today? None of these people were on their phones when they were approached and there were no other obvious distractions. I get that it can be uncomfortable if you’re caught by surprise, but you’re an adult and you set examples to impressionable children whether you realize it or not.
I hate being made to feel like I should have to apologize for my children’s gifts of gab. They truly are gifts in today’s world, aren’t they? Face to face conversation matters because it feels more and more like a lost art. We are all busy, but there are a lot worse things that could happen during your day other than engaging in a short conversation with a child.
Back at the ice cream shop as we walked outside to the car to leave after finishing our ice cream, my 3-year-old ran up to the window where the older woman was sitting and gave her a high five through the glass and a wave. I laughed, she laughed, and my son skipped to the car laughing. She really got a kick out of it. The other two walked outside to their car around the same time, in silence.
I don’t know what’s going on in their life. They appeared to have normal conversation otherwise. But no matter how you slice it, it’s worth the time to acknowledge a young child. It could be the one big bright spot in their day, or even yours. And you just might get a high five.