Oh, no! It's a kid! Run away, run away!
August 31, 2009 8:52 AM   Subscribe

How do I learn to like kids?

I don't really like kids (roughly up until early teens). I have trouble talking with them and interacting with them. I don't know if I should speak to them as adults, or if I should dumb my speech down. It always feels awkward.

I loved being a kid. I also still like cartoons and other children's fare. I'd really like to like kids. I love the imagination of children.

Is there anything I can do to change my views of children and start liking them? If it helps, I'm an only child that has never had to be around children.

Please help me change this. I don't want to run from children anymore!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Just spend as much time with them as possible, with as many different kids as possible. Adults (especially non-related ones) have the same reaction to kids as they do to any other human: we like some of them more than others.
posted by hermitosis at 8:57 AM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

For a lot of friends of mine, having one of your own did the trick. Failing that, hermitosis' advice is good.
posted by box at 9:00 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

The easiest way is to play with them, and to have a thick skin (sometimes kids can be blunt in their honesty, and depending on their age, they can be outright rude as they learn how to interact) and be HAPPY. If you're happy, they'll be happy. Just lighten up and it'll be fine. It's nothing to feel awkward about.

You should speak to them "as adults", minus the profanity of course. You don't need to use simple words or speak in a high-pitched voice. Dumbing down or talking like a baby is patronizing and doesn't do the kid any favors. Talking to them as you would anyone else shows them that you respect them as people, and helps them to speak maturely as well. You should also consider being at their level -- squatting down so you're eye-to-eye, rather than talking down at them. You can however take the opportunity to teach, by telling stories, and explaining how things work if they're interested. Learning a few short stories and fairytales and having fun anecdotes and being able to tell them well is great. Little magic tricks are always good as well depending on the kid's age.

Also, don't mythologize them (ie. believe they have a special gift of imagination that you've lost, etc.)... Just treat them like you would anyone else whose company you enjoy.

That said, I don't really know how you'd achieve this without having the opportunity to be around kids (like taking a kid to the park and playing in the sandbox or pushing them on the swing)...
posted by glider at 9:01 AM on August 31, 2009 [4 favorites]

(I'm not a kid expert, but I have a lot of young relatives)

Your approach will have to vary depending on how old the kid in question is. Kids who are 7-9 years old and up will want to be spoken to like adults, for the most part, and will be offended if you treat them like younger kids. Kids this age are usually pretty astute and will actually notice if you feel really awkward.

Kids who are roughly 5-6 will be very interested in what older people do, especially if they've started school, but they'll jump around from topic to topic. It's usually pretty easy to have a conversation about how they like school, what they want to do when they grow up, dogs vs. cats, etc.

Kids who are 3 and 4 years old will mostly just want to ramble on about whatever's going on in their heads. Seriously, they'll talk about anything, and you probably won't understand most of it. As long as you listen, they'll like you.

If they're under 3, you don't really have to worry about getting on their good side. A happy "Hi!" will usually get you into their good graces.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:04 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know if I should speak to them as adults, or if I should dumb my speech down.

Speak to them as you would speak to an adult, with age-adjusted vocabulary and subject matter, of course (i.e. you wouldn't want to use a lot of $10 big dictionary words with a toddler, but then you probably wouldn't be using those kinds of words in normal adult conversation either).

Kids, especially younger ones, like to be asked questions about their lives. It doesn't have to be like an interrogation or a job interview, just casual conversation. One way to break the ice with little kids is to ask them an unexpected "adult" question ("So, are you married?" usually gets a good fit of giggles going).

The most important thing is to be yourself and behave the same way you would if you were meeting a new person of any age. Be friendly, curious and casual. Kids can spot a faker a mile away. Your interactions with them will get easier and more comfortable as you go along.
posted by amyms at 9:06 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Adults (especially non-related ones) have the same reaction to kids as they do to any other human: we like some of them more than others.

This has been my experience. I was always someone who felt a little"help I don't know what to do around kids!" until I sort of realized a few things

- some kids I get along with great, some I get along with less great
- kids are often more fun to hang out with at a party than the adults. Put another way, if I'm feeling strange and awkward at a party and there are kids there, I pretty much know I can go run around in the yard with them and this is an okay thing to do.
- sometimes I feel pressure from parents to get along with their kids, think their kid is as awesome as they think their kid is, and this is where (I think) some of my stress comes from
- if a kid that is not related to you or is not your responsibility has a total howly meltdown, aside from making sure you can find their parents and make sure they're okay, it's not really your responsibiulity and you can just walk away

I think people have a tendency to overgeneralize about kids from the random kids that stick out in public situations [very loud ones, very rambunctious ones, very disturbed ones] and don't realize that, exactly like adults, kids come in a huge range of types and an awful lot of them are a ton of fun. I look at the kids in my neighborhood who I enjoy hanging out with and one of the things I really like is that I can sort of talk silly sort of nonsense and kids will riff on it with me more than adults often will. I do a lot of the thgins glider suggests

- get down at eye level when possible
- tell them stories or show them neat tricks [I had a finger puppet that "told jokes" and it was a great opportunity to whip out my old elephany jokes that haven't been funny to people my age in 30 years]
- just be happy and hang out, realize there's much less social pressure to entertain, be witty, whatever; kids tend to think different/new adults are interesting too
posted by jessamyn at 9:14 AM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Another thought about older kids-- by the time a kid is roughly 8, he or she will probably have developed at least one very specific interest. For me it was history, for some kids it's horses, space, building things, sports, etc., etc. If you can tap into whatever that thing is for a particular kid, you're pretty much golden (I guess this holds true for everyone, but kid passions are usually a little less specialized than adult pasions).
posted by oinopaponton at 9:18 AM on August 31, 2009

Children can't get too much positive attention, although of course to a child who gets lots of attention, attention from a new adult carries less weight. They're like little sponges, soaking up whatever attention they get. And they welcome it from pretty much any adult. If you're fun and kind they'll be more than happy to spend time with you.

Doing something definite with the kids will help, rather than just trying to manufacture conversation. Offer to play a board game or colour with them, or to take them to the park. With the smaller ones, get down on the floor with them, and don't be afraid to be silly or rambunctious.
posted by orange swan at 9:21 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Remember that you used to be one.
posted by Drainage! at 9:42 AM on August 31, 2009

I started working well with children when I figured out that children generally like adults who are not self-conscious or too serious. They like adults who are willing to be silly. Talk crazy, make faces, that sort of thing. As mentioned, it helps to come down into their space, physically. Sit on the floor, get eye level with them. If you don't know a kid and come at them with Serious Adult Talk they are going to look at you like you're an alien.
posted by The Straightener at 9:47 AM on August 31, 2009

You don't say how old you are right now yourself. I know I was uneasy around kids when I was in my 20's, because I was always self conscious about Not Wanting To Warp A Young Mind. As I got older, and was exposed to more people with kids, that changed.

In terms of conversations, though -- think back to when you were a kid. Was there anything that some adults did when they talked to you that just bugged the snot out of you? Don't do that. By the same token -- is there any moment that stands out for you as something that an adult did that was really cool? Try to do things like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:49 AM on August 31, 2009

I often end up hanging out with the kids of friends at big gatherings, just because I often seem to hit it off with them. If you're into toys and cartoons still (like I am, too!), you have a leg up--ask them if they've seen a cartoon you like, or, if you have a toy handy, give them one to play with. Or ask them about what kind of toys or cartoons they're into. Generally, asking lots of questions is good--but be prepared to answer questions, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:05 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do an activity with them. THis will give you something to talk about. THen tell them what you are thinking. If you are at the mall tell them, " I am thinking of going into that store because they have some cool toys." Or when playing a game like candyland, "Hope I land on the pink square because I love pink." Also, as noted above, silly works. Real well. Before I had kids of my own, I was the uncle who stuck the french fries up his nose to get a laugh out of a 6 year old. (My sister in law is still angry about teaching her kids that one.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:11 AM on August 31, 2009

Kids: People, but short. Ask about TV and movies and music what they did on vacation. Everyone asks them how school's going; as a gambit this is a lot like asking adults about work, e.g., usually pretty boring for both parties.
posted by Diablevert at 10:20 AM on August 31, 2009

Volunteer to do something with kids in a situation where you're not the only adult volunteer. Or try volunteer tutoring, interacting one on one with a kid. It's just going to take practice.
posted by mareli at 10:26 AM on August 31, 2009

I treat them like normal people, just try not to get too complicated, swear, or talk about sex.

Really, that's about it. Once they're about 5-6 they don't really have to be "talked down to" and they get more coherent to understand, and it works out fine.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:32 AM on August 31, 2009

children generally like adults who are not self-conscious or too serious. They like adults who are willing to be silly.

Straightener, I think your advice may, again, depend on the kids. When I was a kid I never particularly liked silly adults and was really fond of the ones who were friendly but serious, because I got the sense that they took me seriously. As an adult (and one who has very much been in the same situation as the OP!), I've tried to carry that "friendly but serious" persona through and it works quite well.

I do realize, however, that I do a whole lot better with kids who are gifted and/or mature for their ages (again, probably goes back to how I was as a kid). My husband, who works well with kids with special needs, is very willing to be silly and it works for him, and them.

My advice is to hang out with older-ish kids (i.e. 3rd to 5th grade) for a while first, if you can. They're old enough that they can carry on a conversation reasonably well but usually aren't old enough to be too snippy or self-conscious yet--in other words, they can still be captivated by interesting things without too many worries about being cool. Maybe move on to younger ones (or older ones) after you're more comfortable.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:33 AM on August 31, 2009

nthing what Hermitosis said at the get go. Each child is just as different as every adult. You'll like some, you'll hate others.

However, I can also sympathize with you. I don't especially love children (which is funny because I work for a children's museum...go figure...). Something that's really helped me is trying to - just like dlugoczaj said - talk to them like I would anybody. You don't need to switch to 'now I'm talking to a kid' mode (well, you do in some respects, like many parents may not appreciate it if you start saying fuck a lot to their kid). When you start to do this, you'll find that kids say some of the most profound and interesting things (and not just the darndest). While lots of the things they say seem totally bizzarre and childish at first, if you think about them from their point of view they can actually be really illuminating. I always try to look at kids through sort of a 'how is it that this thing can turn into an adult...' lens, and that keeps me sort of interested though comfortably removed.

All of that said, there's nothing really wrong with not liking a child. There is a weird culutral expectation that of course you're just going to love every child and think they are just so amazing and etc etc. Just like you're expected to say every infant you see is beautiful. But every infant is not beautiful. In fact, most of them are strange and weird looking. So don't get down on yourself for this. Everyone is entited to like or dislike what they want.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:47 AM on August 31, 2009

There's disliking and there's not knowing how to interact with someone and therefore feeling uncomfortable. If it's the former - go play with adults. If it's the latter you'll have to start spending more time with them.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:04 AM on August 31, 2009

I just wanted to chime in and say that even if you think you're being incredibly awkward or weird, kids may still like you. A couple friends who are parents told me things like, "Oh, little Susie won't stop talking about you! She's so excited to come to parties now when she knows you'll be there!" This seriously boggled my mind because I thought I was being awkward and stilted around the kids. But the weird thing is, just sitting on the floor and chatting and asking them to tell me about their dog, or school, or their favorite game, or to show me a trick seems to work. Even if I feel awkward they don't seem to realize it and we all end up having a good time.
posted by Mouse Army at 11:20 AM on August 31, 2009

There's some good advice here, so I'd reiterate just talking to them in a normal tone of voice, and as engaged as you would an adult. I think that kids often appreciate adults who AREN'T "kid people", per se, because they can pick up on the syrupy tones of voice and disingenuousness from people who are kid-nutty (and yes, those people exist), and appreciate someone just talking to them on their level. Kids love me because I don't fall all over myself around them, but I like them and engage them. As as several others have said, they're not all magical, wonderful beings, just like adults - you'll like some and not others.

Yes, also, to asking about their interests. I recently ran a small singing group for girls in 8th and 9th grade and was asking my 14 year old niece beforehand for advice on interacting with this age group (which I think applies to younger kids as well): "talk to them normally, don't tell stories about yourself that go on forever, like some of my teachers do".
posted by FlyByDay at 11:32 AM on August 31, 2009

I have to disagree with all the folks who say that you should talk to a kid like you would to an adult. Kids can definitely tell if you're talking down to them, but so can adults. Condescension knows no chronological boundaries.

Kids don't want to be treated in an exaggerated artificial manner, but if you talk to them in exactly the same way as you would an adult, they may well either get bored or get the sense that you aren't really comfortable conversing with them. For me, the trick is to give the illusion that I'm talking the same way I would to an adult, but I actually moderate my conversation so that it doesn't rely on presupposed knowledge, nuance, or subtle sarcasm.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:56 AM on August 31, 2009

You can speak to them as adults. Just avoid swearing and topics that are too high-falutin for everyday conversation. Greet them like you would other people. Ask them question about what they're carrying (e.g. "Whatcha got there, Sport. Is that a bunny rabbit?") or wearing (e.g. "Are those robots on your shirt?"). It's not that hard, really.

Kids are different, just as grown ups are. Some like a lot of in-your-face attention. Others definitely do not. Some are very energetic. Others hold back. Some are quiet at first and then warm up to you. You have to read them, just like you would anyone else.

With little kids, simple games are good. I've never met a kid who didn't like peek-a-boo.
posted by wheat at 11:56 AM on August 31, 2009

I don't like them. I refuse to have any. I think the hassles outweigh the positive moments, and they don't fit in my plans for my future anyway.

At the same time, I know how to interact with them because everybody will eventually have to interact with at least someone else's kids; occasionally, some young kids can be pleasant to be around. Talk to them straightforwardly in language they can understand, which does not mean baby talk or dumb-sounding talk but language that explains, say, in layman's terms what you want to say to them. If you've got something cool, show it to them. The more pleasant children to be around are usually fascinated by cool stuff.
posted by kldickson at 12:08 PM on August 31, 2009

I taught kids for many years, and I agree with everyone who say you don't need to talk down to them. If you use a word they don't understand, pretty much every kid will ask you what it means. Also, as a kid I did not like silly or goofy adults- it seemed incredibly fake if I knew they didn't act that way to my parents. That doesn't mean you can't have fun, but you should really just be yourself.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:09 PM on August 31, 2009

Why do you need to like "kids"? You just need to like individual people for who they are. That applies to kids, too. If you walk into a bar, you won't like everyone there just because you "like adults".

Seriously. Look at each kid; look at what they're doing. If they come up and say hi, say hi back, and introduce yourself. If they look sad, ask them if something's wrong, and is there anything you can do, and if they tell you what's wrong tell them you know how they feel. If they want to play, do so if you can/want, and if not, apologize and thank them for asking you.

Soon you will start to see them as individuals, and you will like them as individuals. Occasionally you'll meet a kid you don't like very much, and that's okay, so long as you act civilly and don't just shut them out or let them know you don't like them. Besides, kids are malleable; if you don't like them now, but you spend a little time with them treating them how you want to be treated, they might start imitating you. Then everybody wins.
posted by davejay at 12:15 PM on August 31, 2009

Oh, and get down to meet them at eye level, make eye contact. It makes them much more amenable, just like eye contact does with adults.
posted by davejay at 12:16 PM on August 31, 2009

I was talking with my 6 1/2 year old niece about a month ago, and learned that she really has absolutely no idea how old I am. All she knows, is that I'm older, and I do older people things, that I'm taller, and don't need permission to put on lipstick. One day about a month ago, she decided to ask me how old I was. I told her I was 14.

With a resounding "NUH-UH!" She marched over to my sister (her mom), and her other aunt (my sister in-law), and asked them how old I was. They were a couple of tables away, as this was during my brother's mehndi (pre-wedding Pakistani party), and being unmarried I was not seated at the grown-up table. I looked over to my sister, and gave her a wink. My niece walked back to our table, and said: "aunt raztaj you lied!!! you're not 14, you're 16!!!" (I'm 29)

Point is, kids don't really have much of an idea what being a grown up is or looks like. They have some vague idea, that when you're older you don't need permission to do stuff, and might not like to play with legos anymore (not true in my case), but like many people said in this thread, they just like it if you give them a little attention. Let them lead, play along, and unless they're a super shy kid, you can generally just follow their cues and see how it goes.

FYI, you also do not need to love/like kids all of the time. Kids are moody, emotional, and generally not as restrained as adults, so it's ok to like kids some of the time, and dislike them at others (especially if you do not have kids of your own, or have some kind of personal responsibility with them). Don't act like you have to love kids all of the time - it sets your expectations very high. Set your goal to something more doable, like learn to spend 15 minutes with them and not want to kill yourself. Take baby steps.
posted by raztaj at 12:43 PM on August 31, 2009

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