On how (Not) to Interact with Children

Melanie and I are afraid of children. Or at least I am. They’re small, & I don’t know how to talk to them. If you leave me alone with a child, we will probably just stare awkwardly at each other – at least until the child falls off something & begins crying, at which point I will quietly excuse myself to find someone that knows what to do with a crying child.

On a few occasions, I have attempted to interact with children, but it makes me feel awkward and silly. I have attempted the “I’ll make silly faces until you laugh” approach, but it either makes them cry, or else they just stare at me, which makes me feel foolish.

Also, children are perpetually covered in peanut butter, it seems. I don’t know why. I’ll probably find out if/when I become a parent.

This is a problem for us, because we want to interact with people who have children, but we don’t know how. We want to invite people with children over to our house, but our house is not exactly child-proof. I don’t want peanut butter on my TV screen, and Mel and I like to keep small bottles of poison laying around that we wouldn’t want a curious child to drink.

We also aren’t exactly clear on the prevailing social customs of interacting with people who have children. For example, can we invite a family with children to our home for a 7:00 dinner, or do we need to schedule it for 3:30 PM so the kids can be home for their 5:30 bedtime? What about when you want to go for a bicycle ride with some friends, but you aren’t sure if their 1-year-old will be able to keep up? Or what if we want to take in a 7:00 action-thriller movie inappropriate for children with someone who has kids? We feel awkward when our invitation requires someone else to get a sitter because it feels like we’re saying “You can come over, but don’t bring your kids.” Also, we feel like parents with small children would rather have us come to their house, where the children have already broken everything breakable, where we can (quietly) socialize without making the kids miss their bedtimes, and where the kids have plenty of toys to keep them busy (compared to the wooden spoon they’d get to play with at our house), but we can’t exactly invite ourselves over to someone else’s house, can we?

Until now, we’ve mostly just avoided the situation – I suppose by avoiding people with children. But now that we’re approaching 30, more and more of our peers are having children, and we’re realizing that we’re going to have to overcome our fears if we don’t want to become even more socially awkward than we already are.

So I’m asking the internet for help. If you don’t have kids, how do you interact with people that do? How do you plan social gatherings for people with children? What are the social customs for inviting parents on activities you know would be inappropriate for their children? If you have kids, what sort of invitations would you like to receive from your childless friends? What should I avoid? What do you think of some of the situations I’ve raised here? Also, why are children always covered in peanut butter?

Got any advice for us?

32 comments to On how (Not) to Interact with Children

  • Advice? Maybe if you have kids it won't be so awkward anymore. 🙂
    J/K I totally relate to your situation, and haven't really figured out a solution. The times that we've hung out with our friends that have kids have been when they've invited us over, or have stated they would like to go on a "double date" without the kids, hence the babysitter is their idea and we didn't have to bring it up. I'll be checking back here to see if anyone else has bright ideas!

  • What I love is the mention of pb, because that's the same thing you told me 10 years ago. Seriously. I'm sure I could find proof in a journal.
    One option is to hang out with a younger and younger crowd, like I do, and phase out the friends with kids. Just kidding.
    I will say children are a TEENY bit easier for me to deal with now that I have my two adorable (and destructive and loud and difficult sometimes) nieces, but I still like our little kids way more than other kids. Sometimes I go visit my cousin, and her daughter drives me crazy. The daughter is super cute, but I can't even have a conversation with her mother.
    I too, am stumped. Good luck, my friend.

  • I nannied a lot in college, and the one thing I learned was not to talk to kids in a "kid voice"–just talk to them like they're adults. They like to be taken seriously. You can be sarcastic, too–they can usually tell if you're joking (you're being silly!) or they'll maybe half believe you and then laugh about it. If they have siblings, talk about your siblings. I tell a little girl I babysit that my brother is weird, too. My friend Jessica had a baby a few months ago, and now I just go over and we drink wine and eat chips and salsa and it's not totally different except there's a baby sitting around. Babies are kind of lumps, so they're easy.

    But (re: the PB) kids are kind of grody by nature-best to have a damp cloth handy ALL THE TIME.

  • Tara

    Don't worry, it won't be awkward when you have your own…should we be expecting an announcement?

    I think it helps when you are good friends with the people who have the kids. I find it somewhat hard to become friends with people who have kids, especially when the kids are naughty, but I think that if you just be yourself. Play legos with them, watch cartoons, etc.

    Also, I say just invite your kid-friends to do whatever you want to do, if they can't make it then its their loss. Word of advice, run away from a kid with a runny nose or a cough…I brought one back to CO with me from the holiday weekend.

  • Jo

    I can't help you on how to interact with kids. I know how to interact with exactly one kid–my own.

    Honestly, most of our friends don't have kids. In fact, none of the friends we hang out with on a regular basis have kids. So I actually like when they invite themselves over after Aaron goes to bed, because after 7:00 it's either party at our house or not at all. We like going to their houses too (we usually bring Aaron and a bagful of toys), but it's so easy at our house–we don't have to find a babysitter, we don't have to worry about entertaining him (because he's asleep), and if he needs something we're right there. Plus it's nice for them, because they don't feel obligated to play with him.

    I always thought kids were perpetually covered in jam. Maybe there's a correlation between the peanut butter hands, jam hands, and kids' strong affinity for PB&J sandwiches?

  • How perfectly timed! Jason and I had this exact conversation a few weeks ago. And we heartily agree with all of your points. We invited some work friends over to play Risk and one of the guys had to bring his 18mo baby. Mostly the guys played the games, and I chased a toddler from cluster of cords, to board game, to steep steps.

    We are coping by doing a mixture of all of the above. We invite the couple to activities where they will obviously have to get a sitter… we invite them over for dinner and games, expecting to chase and entertain their kids around most of the time… we invite ourselves to their house, promising food for all and a movie once the kids are in bed…

    At least, that is how I'd like to be treated once we finally have kids. And we haven't alienated anyone yet, so it can't be too bad of a tactic.

    Why are none of your friends WITH children commenting on this? We'd gladly take more ideas.

  • Evan and I have this same issue sometimes too. I really love children and have helped my sister raise her 4 children for the past 14 years. However, I still find it hard wanting to spend time with friends who have children! Here are a few things we have done:

    *We have invited friends over who have children. We semi-baby proofed as the baby started getting into our stuff.
    *We have suggested that we hang out or do a certain activity. Then it's up to the parents to accept said invitation (which has generally been mutual). The parents then have determined where we're going to hang out.
    *In the case of family, we just are blunt about wanting to spend time and inviting ourselves over.

  • So it sounds like we're all sorta in the same boat, here…. so CALLING ALL FRIENDS WITH BABIES: where are you???? (Answer: tending to the babies…)

    Stephanie, I agree. Nothing is as maddening as being forced to listen to baby-talk.

  • I never want kids I like to come and go as I please to. That was funny to read and laugh about.
    Thanks For a good laugh after a not so good day.

  • Haha…this was funny. I actually would picture you being good with kids, for some reason. My advice is this. Don't be friends with people who have kids. Because the kids are almost certainly sticky with something. And even if the parents come over without kids, there is a good chance that a sticky child hand touched some surface of the parents, without them realizing, still bringing the stickyness to your home. GROSS.

  • Christy

    Well, I don't have kids. And I'm 22 so most people I know also don't have kids. Okay that's not true, two of my best friends have babies. But babies are easy, they stay in one place and are easily amused by shiny things. So I can ignore them and talk to my friend. My point is, I know how you feel. I am quite scared of kids myself. I want one really, really bad for some odd reason…. But I have no idea how to interact with them. So I can't really give any advice but can offer some small form of validation. Also, if I learned anything in my three months in treatment, it was to never avoid the things that make you anxious. Because it will eventually sneak up and bite you on the butt. Its always good to expose yourself to those things you fear and you will be a stronger person for it. Yay for avoiding avoiding! 😉

  • It's pretty simple, just talk to the people you want to hang out with. They have a schedule (that includes children) just like normal people have schedules. Some nights will work better than others, etc.

    Besides, each family has their own situation with bedtimes and babysitters and whatnot. There isn't a one size fits all answer to your question.

  • Maybe some people with kids would really like to have more adult interaction, and wish they knew more people to hang out with. I would suggest approaching people you like who have children with, "Hey, we would really like to hang out with you sometime." Suggest a variety of activities or ask them what they like to do then ask them if it would work better at your place or theirs. That way you can all do a fun activity together that fits with any constraints that they have. I bet some parents would really appreciate it.

  • SMB tech geeks

    Kids – no need to converse, just follow this guide:

    0-5 years, just duck-tape them to the wall.

    5 years plus, leave them in the backyard with a collection of amusing diversions – power tools, the pool, the neighbour's cat etc – hours of fun for any self respecting kid with an ounce of get up & go! ;0)

  • Well, the only friend we have with kids doesn't bring his kids with him if we hang out (leaves them with the ex-wife). We'd love to have them, because they are crazy wonderful kids, but they don't do well in public. One is very autistic and one is crazy hyper.

    We do have one set of friends that are married that are expecting their first. We already find it impossible to hang out with them, cuz the mom-to-be (she' 22) cannot talk about anything other than babies and being pregnant. Uh, sorry, I can't relate, nor do I really care.

    Luckily kids love us but they sure do put a wrench in things!

  • So you want to make some more friends, eh? Here's the thing with kids- they do think they're mini adults. And they're always sticky because sticky dirt is magnetically attracted to their skin. For reals.

    Every family does have a schedule, So simply say- Hey, we want you guys to come hang out for game/dinner/whatever. What time is best? Usually they know what window of time they have that they're kids are the most well behaved.

    If kids are coming and you're worried about them messing up your house, it might be a good idea to look around your house and find things they could play with, like balls or paper or empty boxes.And if you've got nothing, go to the dollar store and buy some cheap balls, puzzle and crayons and coloring book.

    Most of the time with my kids I was super aware that the person's house was kid free, so we'd try to bring our own entertainment for the kids, if we knew we'd be there for longer than 10 minutes.

    For summertime entertaining, have a bbq at a park or playground, and you've got instant entertainment for the kids.

    Oh, and for bike riding, just ask if they'd all like to come, they'll figure out amongst themselves if they feel like having their kids ride along.

    And as far as the parents that only know how to talk about their kids…some people just do that because it's their life. Ask them what they majored in in college, what tv shows they watch, and what they'd spend a million dollars on. They'll remember there's more to talk about then contractions and labor stories.

  • Reuben… I feel you man. I used to be nervous around kids (even my own families children).
    Lately however I can not escape them… it seems most of my friends have kids, I have a GRIP of neices and nephews and I teach primary at church not to mention I am going to have one of my own in a few months.

    So here are a few things I have learned about interacting with kids… I hope this helps you.

    You can make friends with a child just like you make friends with a strangers dog… give them a treat and they will be your friend forever.

    Kids love secrets, try whispering something silly in their ear and then sending them on a secret mission to tell someone else. When I was dating Chuck, I would send his nieces on "secret missions" to tell Chuck things I liked about him. It would always make us laugh because they would never remember exactly what I told them to say (like playing telephone).

    Teach them something new… they like to learn. If kids come to your house you could show them your bicycle and tell them about the parts… or you could talk to them about what you do for a job. I think kids are apprehensive about you because they don't know you, so try them to tell them a little bit about who you are and what you like.

    Kids love to draw and color. I try keep a coloring book in my house, or even just blank paper and crayons.

    Try to play with them… even if you can just take five minutes to sit on the floor with them and roll a ball they will know that you are trying to reach out to them.

    I have found my relationship with friends who are parents grows stronger as I reach out to their kids. I really enjoy being around them now… peanut butter fingers and all 🙂

  • Laurie

    All right, mother of 3 here, and get this – we have married friends with no kids! We call them "single friends". We love to get babysitters and feel young again by spending time with those single friends. One couple who are childless, invite us over for dinner and are just laid back about letting our kids roam. (although our kids are older now)

    Talk to kids like adults – they will respect you for it. And, you'll be totally entertained by what they say. With toddlers and non-verbal kids, get out your keys and let them play with them, or an old magazine at your house to rip apart. They love things that are off limits.

  • barefootbhakti

    All right, mother of 3 here, and get this – we have married friends with no kids! We call them "single friends". We love to get babysitters and feel young again by spending time with those single friends. One couple who are childless, invite us over for dinner and are just laid back about letting our kids roam. (although our kids are older now)

    Talk to kids like adults – they will respect you for it. And, you'll be totally entertained by what they say. With toddlers and non-verbal kids, get out your keys and let them play with them, or an old magazine at your house to rip apart. They love things that are off limits.

  • i would like to add that it is usually equally awkward for people who have children to be invited to a non-parental home. we are left wondering, "should we bring the kids? should we get a sitter?" "they don't really have anything for the kids to do. should we just bring the bedroom?" these thoughts run through our minds as well. it's one of those unspoken fears on both ends, parent or not. nobody wants to make the other feel awkward but it's only inevitable. we love hanging out with anyone who will have us so we will just do whatever we feel like doing & feel comfortable with. as far as advice goes, just be up front. parents know what you can and cannot provide for their children when hanging at your place. i feel it's completely fine to say, "hey do you think we could do it at your house? we just don't have very many things for the kids to do at ours." then again, i love entertaining & not eveyone does but it's worth a shot.

    also, you could just pop a few out of your own and forget the whole thing. 🙂

    as far as the peanut butter thing, my friends and i refer to those kids as "the syrup kids". for some reason (not some reason at all, but because they ate it), growing up, the kids always smelled like syrup when they arrived at school. i make my kids scrub their faces when they're done eating anything that leaves a scent someone could trace. 🙂

  • I've had friends with kids since I was 18 years old, so this whole thing has never occurred to me.

    The last time I had a friend with a young kid over we drank while she played. Somehow, I ended up with marker all over my arms and legs. Eh. letting her draw all over me kept her occupied and quiet.

  • You pretty much nailed my feelings on children. I'm always worried I'm going to say something that causes them to run away in fear and then their parents will think I'm crazy and never speak to me again.
    Is their a phobia regarding children?

  • Lilly

    I have zero advice. Kids suck.

    Helpful, I know…

  • Funny! Awkward.
    And now I understand why you turned that lovely shade of white when I asked you to play John the Baptist for the primary.
    [An aside: Willa is playing with a wooden spoon right now. Yes, it is a broken wooden spoon but I'm the one that broke it, in the blender. I'm pretty destructive myself. And I like peanut butter.]
    But since it's obvious you want to hang out with us here are my pointers.
    Just ask. Be awkward. I'd go with something suave like, "Wanna hang out?"
    Wait for the guaranteed "Yes!" because you and Melanie are so cool/hip.
    Then maybe say something like, "When and where is best for you?"
    Viola! You're eating hot dogs at the Martins. Enoch is in your lap. Willa's throwing Cheerios and Melanie's contemplating the nunnery.
    or
    If it's some other family, you're always welcome to borrow one of ours so that you fit in. We have a range of options. I'll even wash 'em for you.

  • Sheesh! This might be the most comments I've ever received on a post before! So it turns out I'm not alone, here. There are a lot of peeps out there that don't know how to interact with kids, or with people that have kids.

    I think we can draw the following conclusions:
    1. children ruin everything.
    2. It's better to just confront the awkwardness with honesty than to pretend it doesn't exist.
    3. I should propose a potential activity, but I should let the peeps with the kids determine where/when.
    4. Don't use baby-talk & abandon the "make silly faces approach"
    5. Plan on everything you own getting covered in peanut butter.

  • Have you tried talking to kids about roundabouts? I think you'll find some common ground there.

  • Kat

    So, I have no idea how things are going to be for us now that we've had a kid, but I've been wondering how our social lives will change too. Just know you guys are always welcome to invite yourselves over to out house.:)

  • if people with kids come to your place you could always just be so kind as to provide benadryl, horse tranquilizers, or dramamine. just a thought…

  • Raina, that's exactly what I'm talking about! I always thought parents preferred to drug THEIR OWN children! AAGGHH! I don't know ANYTHING about kids.

  • Katie, I won't commit to being on the receiving end of dirty looks from a kid for more than 5 minutes, especially if he's/she's covered in anything remotely resembling pb or macaroni.

  • I can totally relate to the peanut butter/syrup/jam covered children, and add that there were kids in our old apartment building whose hands were constantly covered in macaroni and cheese. (we hoped.)

    How about I bring my kids to your ward Christmas party, sit at the same table as you, and I'll let my older kid talk your ears off and my little one give you dirty looks all night? (We run the gamut around here.) (Plus I really want to figure out how you know so many people from my old ward.)

  • I'll see what I can do.