Scenario #1:

You and your spouse enter an elevator.   There is one other person already in the elevator – a woman.   Once the door closes, she smiles brightly at you and says, in a voice that is a bit high and slightly over-enthusiastic:


You smile briefly or say hi back, and she says, smile still on her face, “How old are you?”

You hesitate because your radar is scanning for possible crazy, and your spouse nudges you and says, “Answer the nice lady, sweetie.”

You glare at him and answer through gritted teeth.   The doors open and the overly friendly lady exits.

Scenario #2:

You and your spouse enter an elevator which is already occupied by a man.   Doors close and the man turns to you with a wink and a smile  and says,  “And where do YOU work?

You tell him and he nods and says, “And what’s your favorite part of your job?”

Again the crazy scanners are buzzing and you hesitate, but your spouse, who is smiling back at the man, says, “He’s a little shy.   He works at Chase Bank and just loves opening new accounts for people, don’t you sweetie!?”

Awkward nods.  Doors open and your interrogator gets off the elevator.

No one in the adult world would ever dream of instigating that type of conversation with another adult, or responding to someone whose opening line was “How old are you?”

And yet when people talk this way to children, (substituting “where do you go to school” or “what grade are you in” for “where do you work”) we expect the kids to answer as if it is the most exciting thing in the world.  They should be polite and smile and if they don’t we chide them for it.

Here’s a clue.  Kids don’t always love these questions.  My kids hate them.   Why should they enjoy being asked such things?   Would you?   If that was all that was said?   (Or even if it wasn’t?)

Oh, and one more thing.

Scenario #3:

You and your spouse enter an elevator, occupied by one man.  Upon the doors closing, the man turns to your spouse with a smile and says, “How old is she?”

(I added that one after reading this to my kids, and Maya immediately said that even worse than Scenario’s 1 & 2 is when an adult pretends the kid isn’t actually present or is incapable of responding.)

Next time you see a kid on an elevator (or anywhere else) and are motivated to say something or ask a question – especially when time is limited – remember this post.   Maybe compliment them on their coat, hat, shoes, whatever.   Perhaps ask them if they are enjoying the weather or something small-talky like that.   Don’t raise the pitch of your voice or condescend.

In short, talk to a child like a human, not a trained pet.



4 comments on “Conversations

  1. Kelly says:

    I love this post. Must you use the word “crazy”? Many with mental and emotional illness find this term offensive and stigmatizing.

    Thank you for posting about condescending to children. Far too many people do it.

  2. […] Conversations (If I could count the number of times people have spoken to mychildren in this vein.  It is a scripted interaction, and the questioner, because this is not a conversation as much as what I assume is well-intentioned interrogation, is always something at a loss when my children proclaim that they are not and never have been in a grade, that I am not their teacher, and then, generally, steer the conversation to a more interesting and equal footing. A good number fade away rather than engage in anything remotely meaningful…their intention was not to truly engage, apparently.  My guess is that, to them, children are incapable of deeper interaction, or perhaps not worthy of it.  In any event, this tendency of adults to quiz children and to behave as though school ought to be the focus and framework of their lives mystifies Jeremiah and Annalise, who lead rich, textured, and school-free lives, and would love to talk to you about their passions!) […]

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