Etiquette around Kids

img courtesy travelthusiast.com

img courtesy travelthusiast.com

This is the last part of my four piece series on a parenting guide for non parents. I’ve already discussed easy foods, useful gifts and buying clothes for someone else’s kids. This post is slightly different – I share my thoughts on good etiquette around other people’s kids.

My daughter is an extroverted person, she loves chatting with our friends and won’t think twice about taking them by their hand and commanding them to play with her. Despite such a wonderful disposition, I’ve seen her consistently refuse to even say hello to some people. I’ve tried to spot what triggers this behaviour and have provided some tips for anyone who struggles to connect with kids.

Then there is the other situation – when a stranger in a pub or in some other public place decides to chat with my daughter. I love how friendly my girl is and haven’t yet stopped her from talking to strangers. Most strangers don’t abuse this, but the liberties some take make me cringe. I’d like to believe that most of these strangers don’t realise that the days of Leave it to Beaver are gone and just need to be educated.

So here’s some quick dos and don’ts.

DO

Give some warm up time. Most kids take some time to adjust to a new environment. They will slowly take in the new space and the new faces in this space. During this period they will inevitably cling to a parent – probably thousand’s of years of self preservation instincts kicking in. If you try to engage the child at this stage, you will face immense resistance. Your best strategy here is to allow this warmup time. As they get comfortable with the new environment, they will break away from the parent to explore new nooks and corners. While this happens focus on chatting and laughing with the parents. As the kid sees how comfortable her parents are with you she may herself try to engage with you. For my little extrovert this warm up time is about 2-minutes, but it can be ten minutes, half an hour, or even longer. So don’t lose patience.

img courtsey slate.com

img courtsey slate.com

Put out some toys. If the kid is visiting your home and you have toys handy, consider leaving them in a corner for her to explore. (Don’t force her to come take them from you.) This may help in shortening the warmup time mentioned above. If you don’t have toys, it’s quite easy to improvise. Coloured pens and paper, a metal/plastic bowl with some flour and water (if you don’t mind messy play), a sheet draped over a couple chairs for a make shift tent with maybe a bowl of raisins inside, all make excellent impromptu toys/play activities.

Listen to the kid. A close friend, who is otherwise one of the kindest and gentlest person I know, would insist on holding my daughter. She would say “come to me”, “come to me” the minute we’d see her. However my daughter would show no desire to go to her. Noticing this I’d try to avoid handing over my daughter. Ignoring both our body languages, she would take my daughter from my arms while gently repeating “come, come, come to aunty.” Right after this, unfailingly, my daughter would start wailing and squealing. It would piss the hell outta me and one day I finally told her “she doesn’t want to come, please don’t force her”.

This has never happened with anyone else, but I read a lot of frustrated posts on mummy forums with mother’s complaining about close relatives, sometimes grandparents doing the same. If you really want to win over a child, forcing her to do something she doesn’t want to is the worst thing you can do. It’s important to watch how a kid responds to your invitations before taking any action. They are tiny creatures but they have a will of their own even at four-months old.

Stay away when unwell. Sorry if this sounds rude but let me paint you a picture. Young babies need to feed every three hours (day or night). Some babies feed every hour. Toddlers wake up in the middle of the night for a million different reasons – wet their bed, had a nightmare, want water, want to piddle… you get the picture. Most parents of young kids would consider themselves lucky if they got 6 straight hours of sleep. Mothers of young babies would consider themselves lucky if they got four hours of straight sleep – the minimum required to feel rested. Add to this the fact that little kids have weak immune systems. They will pick up every bug floating by. So when you come to a luncheon with a bad cold, cough, or flu, you are essentially sentencing a parent to zombiehood. I’ve heard horror stories where some parents have had to sit up the whole night with a sick child sleeping on their shoulder. After all this these parents still have to wake up by 7am to go to an office job or to start with the day’s housework.

I know that this is what we as parent have signed up for, but if you know you’re carrying a bug, drop a casual “I’m just recovering from a bug” before the meet. It allows the parents to decide if one of them should stay away with the baby. An even better approach is “I’m still recovering from a bug and am concerned about exposing the baby to it. Would you like to reschedule?” Do this and I promise, you will have eternally grateful parent friends.

DON’T

Pull my girl’s cheeks. Young cheeks are soft, rosy and so tempting to pull. Don’t. I don’t know any kid who likes it. I still dislike the uncle who regularly pulled mine when I was a kid. You wouldn’t want someone pulling and squeezing your cheeks. Just don’t!

Kiss my child. I recognise that in some cultures this is a form of social greeting, but I don’t know any kid who welcome a kiss from a stranger or someone who is not very intimately known to them. Older kids learn to accept kisses with a silent grimace. The younger ones will openly scowl or try to quickly get away. If you’re trying to win over a child, you may want to control this urge. If you really can’t, make sure you are not sweating and make the kiss a quick, dry one.

img courtesy diaperedknights.com

img courtesy diaperedknights.com

Bribe with chocolates and treats. The kid maybe delighted to get a chocolate, but most parents will not be happy that you offered their kid junk food without their permission. Plus most kids will take the treat and then sneak back into the arms of their parent. I’ve seldom seen a treat break the ice with kids.

etiquette_treats

img courtesy shotshurtlesblog.com

Walk away with my child. We were in a pub restaurant and my little girl was getting restless in her high chair. I removed her from the chair so that she could walk around and explore. It was a big restaurant and the minute she turned a corner, I got up and followed her – within seconds. In those few seconds she had started chatting with a woman while watching a couple men play pool. When my daughter gestured to indicate that she wanted to play pool, one of the men hoisted her onto the table and helped her play a few shots. Very cute, my daughter was thrilled, I even took a photo. But inside I was cringing. The correct protocol would’ve been to ask me, the mum, if it was okay to let my daughter take a few shots before touching my daughter.

Then the woman who was clearly with the men, seated my girl on a chair next to her, and waved me off. “Go eat your dinner, I have my eye on her.” I truly believe that most people are nice and in all likelihood she meant well. And it was this sentiment that stopped me from just marching up to her and removing my daughter, but “No way in hell was I was going to leave my child with a complete stranger!” and she was clearly disappointed when I didn’t budge.

I don’t know if it would ever be okay to leave a child with a stranger – maybe when my parents were kids and the world was a saner place. But this is an era of child porn, child abduction, and crazy crazy people. You’d have to be a very close relative or a well established child carer for parents to trust you with their child, and even then do not assume that you are allowed to walk away with someone’s child. In UK 90% of serious sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. So ask for permission to take a child out of a parent’s sight and accept without resentment if refused. It’s not about you, it’s about the child’s safety.

Feed my child from your plate. This bit ties up with the same theme around keeping your germs to yourself. I’ve had friends bite into food and offer the other half to my kid. Bad, bad, bad.

That’s my two cents on good etiquette when around kids. Agree or disagree – would love to hear from you.

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Relevant:

1. Easy foods for young guests
2. Buying gifts for kids
3. Gifting clothes to kids
4. Flying with kids


Visit the main EncycloKidia Website to find local services for your baby, toddler, or older kids.

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