On Getting Kids to Like You

I love passing the test with kids. Kids can figure adults out pretty quickly. They judge by your body language, the tone of voice you use with them, whether you make eye contact, even the amount of stress being around them causes you (I’ve said it before: they can smell fear).

Last weekend I was helping out a friend and ex-day care client by taking their 5-year-old son Jack for the day (so I got to visit with my old buddy too). My two boys were playing baseball at the park, and after the first boring hour Jack was getting restless. He asked if he could go to the playground. I grudgingly said yes (as I get older, sitting around watching endless baseball games has become a treat for me simply because I don’t have to move). And of course I didn’t want to miss my boys play.

We headed over there and I stayed with him for a bit, but pretty soon could tell that Younger Son was coming up to bat. Jack was hanging out with three other kids so I approached to talk to him.

The kids looked at me with that look they always get: uh-oh. Grownup. Did anybody just do anything wrong? No. Then why is she coming over here? OK, get the defensive posture, what do you want, lady?

I actually knew the girl really well and said hi to her as I got closer. Then I said to Jack, “I want to go back and see Younger hit. I’ll just be across the street for five minutes. Will you be OK over here?”

The smaller boy immediately started peppering me with questions in that little kid way. The bigger boy kept back and assessed me.

Jack still wasn’t quite sure what to say so I told him, “I know Lizzie, and she’s a really nice friend so I know you’ll be OK with her.”

The little boy piped up, “I’m Nathan.”

I said, “Hi Nathan. Do you have a brother named Carter?” He said no, and he said there was another Carter in his class. I said, “I know another Carter, so we know at least three in our town!”

I turned back to Jack and said, “Well now you know Nathan, so you should be safe here. I don’t know this kid,” as I gestured to the older boy.

He finally laughed and lightened up. He asked, “Are you a teacher?”

He may have been asking just because I seemed to know half the kids in town. But I like to think it was also because I had that teacher vibe – an adult who can talk to kids. And not to be silly, but that made me feel really proud of myself.

A week earlier, while walking to the same park to see another game, some kids on the playground were yelling, as kids do, and one of them said, “Hiiiii!” really sarcastically. I just looked at him and waved and said “Hi!” back in a friendly way. Then another kid realized she knew me and yelled, “HI AMY!!!” very excitedly. I yelled and waved back and she was so happy.

If I’d been uptight about their yelling I wonder if she would have owned up to knowing me. I guess that’s the key – if you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’re in the club. When kids start pushing your buttons and realize they’re not getting anywhere, and you know how to handle them, they figure you’re alright.

I had to take my sick child to the doctor’s office twice this week, both times with three day care kids in tow. The same nurse saw us both times and commented that the kids were always so well-behaved. I told her I had just been thinking about it in the waiting room. When my kids were little I would go to the office, sit in the chair, grab a magazine, tell them to sit and be quiet, and get really angry when they wouldn’t. Which of course would escalate rapidly. Today, I sat on the floor with them. What kind of difference do you think that made?

So today I’m thankful for all the skills this job has given me. A job I never thought I’d have, by the way, and definitely never thought I could even handle let alone excel at. As my sons get older and experience more of the world and have to go out and face hard stuff every day, I feel so grateful that I know some of the kids they’ll be with, and that I can talk to them as well as figure them out. And hopefully, that they will respect me enough to be at least a little bit honest with me. Because pretty soon, we’ll be entering dangerous waters, and I want to know that I have a seaworthy boat.

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