Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time with LP and Little Man. When the children are at home with me we might do the typical things like going shopping, to the post office and generally running errands before having a couple of hours at the park or soft play.
On these normal days the children talk constantly. They talk to me and they talk to anyone else too. If LP has got a new top, new shoes or, on one occasion, a new watch she will spend the whole day showing those new things to everyone she meets, asking them to look at it and telling them about it.
Other days, when there isn’t anything new LP and Little Man will both wave at people in the shops, saying “Hello man!” cheerily or just bouncing up and down. They are both incredibly sociable little things and love to greet people, talk to them and make them smile.
I always watch the children when they’re interacting with random people and it’s amazing how differently people react to them. Some will smile, say hello and treat the children as equals, making conversation and wishing them a nice day at the end.
Others will smile politely and hurry on with their business, not really knowing what the correct etiquette is when greeted by a four year old standing in a shopping trolley. But others make me sad.
There are quite a few others who will point blank ignore the children. Who will act as if they are not there and even when the children say hello again those people won’t even look in their direction. There have been times at soft play where Little Man has been playing with another child and will start to talk to the child’s parent. The parent looks at him whilst he is talking and then, when he has finished, will look away as if he isn’t even there. Not even attempting to understand him or give any sort of reply.
When we’re in soft play and another child talks to me, I’ll reply. If a child in the supermarket says hello, I’ll smile and say hello back before smiling at the child’s parent too, letting them know that I don’t mind the little interruption on my shopping trip. If a child talks to me I treat them like an equal, I don’t think of them as just a child but as another person, an individual in their own right and someone who deserves my time, my focus and enough respect to not be ignored.
Would those people ignore a colleague at work? Would they look away if a neighbour said good morning to them? Would they completely blank a friendly shop assistant when buying their weekly shop? I doubt it. So why do people treat children so differently?
Children learn about how to treat people by the way they are treated. They soak up every little interaction and I know that I want Little Man to keep chatting, to have those random conversations and to keep being that confident little boy. I don’t want him to think that he’ll be ignored, that his words don’t matter or that people will have something better to do than listen to him.
Next time a small child asks you something in soft play or shouts hello in the supermarket, take a moment to reply or smile at them before carrying on with your day.