Respect and young children

Recently, a friend of mine came over for dinner. Excited to have company my social 3 year-old was allowed to say up for an extra 10 minutes or so past his bedtime so that he could have a chat to our friend. Having only recently turned 3 my little boy held up his chubby fingers and excitedly declared to our guest, “I’m fwee!”

“Oh, you’re fwee?” came the sarcastic reply with a knowing look to mum and dad.

At that point my 3 year old looked decidedly confused and repeated again, “I’m fwee.”

Again, the reply: “Fwee?”

This conversation may sound a little familiar to you. Perhaps you have had a conversation like this with a child recently. Perhaps you are waiting for me to now espouse on the values of correcting your child’s language, which, when done appropriately and lovingly, I will.

Or perhaps you may remember being a little person who couldn’t articulate all of the words that you wanted to say properly. Perhaps you remember being really excited to talk with all of the big people in your life and finding that your lips and your tongue didn’t always make the same sounds that you heard in your brain. And perhaps you remember how you felt when the response that you got from a great height was a sarcastic and condescending, “Fwee?”

Many people find communicating with young children difficult, and for good reason. They are hard to understand, emotionally unpredictable, easily bored and have no qualms with breaking social etiquette. However, if I was to give one simple tip for communicating effectively with the tiny people in your life, be they your children or someone else’s, it would be this:


Do you like being spoken to from a great height? No. Do you enjoy being treated with sarcasm? No. Do you enjoy being ignored? No. Do you enjoy having your faults pointed out, your interests ignored or your very presence brushed over?

If not, then chances are that the amazing little developing person at your knees doesn’t either.

If you want to engage well with a young child then treat them as a person. I am not talking about treating them as an adult but as a person. A person that has their own valuable ideas, beliefs and interests.

Bearing all this in mind, here are a few quick tips for having great conversations with your little person:

  • Meet them at eye level – this is such a simple thing but nothing says that you are important so quickly and easily as meeting a child at their eye level.
  • Ask concrete questions about their activities and interests. Besides being developmentally appropriate for a preschool aged child you will be delighted and amazed at their answers and perspectives.
  • Do not employ adult humor – it is unfair as they do not understand and makes them acutely aware of the fact that they do not know as much as you. Be playful and fun but remember that they are your audience, no one else. You wouldn’t have a conversation with an adult for someone else’s listening pleasure so do not do it with a child.
  • Always acknowledge a child when you see them, even if they do not respond freely to you. Generally, if you employ the above strategies they are more likely to want to speak to you, even if it is not immediately.
  • Lastly, be interested in them. The perspective of a young child is one of the most delightful things in the world so enjoy it.