Talking to kids: Why do adults suck at conversation starters?

It happens almost every single day. You meet someone you know and your child is with you. They make small talk while the child has slipped his hand in yours and is gently pulling you away. Suddenly they realize they have to ask the child something. And they unleash:

So what’s your name?

No name? You are shy? 

Why are you shy? Don’t want to talk to me?

They should have got the hint by now, but they don’t:

So are you being a good boy?

And this:

I know all about you. 

I have never understood this.

Of all the stupid questions adults ask, their conversation starters with kids are truly idiotic. Honestly would you walk up to someone in a bar and say “So what’s your name?” Then why would you do it to a kid?. Ditto for how old are you? Do you really care? Are you trying to test their Math? And what use is this information anyway?

Imagine if someone asked you, while you were drinking a cup of coffee. Ah, you are drinking coffee I see. You like coffee?

Same thing. Why would you ask a child eating an icecream: Ah, you are eating icecream?

Kids do not like small talk. They prefer being ignored than be asked : what’s your name, which school, which standard, how old are you?

How about asking kids what they like to do in their free time, what is their favorite color and why, do they like being indoors or outdoors, do they believe in magic, when was the last time they made a paper boat, do they like boats or ships, rivers or seas….

I asked some friends of this blog what were the most annoying questions their kids get asked and and here’s some of what they came up with (the list was huge, so I have only picked a few). Mind you, some of these questions have been asked post the stroking or pulling of child’s cheek, or worse, lifting them up bodily, or even worse – hoisting them in the air (as size may allow)

What if I take this TOY away..?

Look.. your Mommy is gone.. what will you do now?

Is that my toy?

What do you want to be when you grow up? 

Let’s see if you can give me a hi-five!

Why don’t you sing me a song?

Smile! Let’s take a selfie!

 Who is more naughty you or your brother?

Who does mummy love more you or your brother?

 Oh.. You’re only 8? But you’re SO BIG!

Will you please give me a kissie no. Please. Please. 

Who do YOU love more? Mum or dad?

 Want to come to my house, I have toys and chocolates

I feel like saying: GET OVER IT!

It’s a child. It’s not an alien just landed from a space ship.

It’s a smaller (and perhaps less stupid) version of you.

You are supposed to know this. You have a vocabulary. Years of experience in making conversation. You went to college. You have a job. Surely you can come up with something better.

And the worst questions are usually asked by people who already have kids, so there can be no excuses technically of not knowing what to say. And why bother saying anything at all? I am sure my child won’t mind and I will be spared writing such posts.

Some day, I will make a list of questions to ask a child or make Re carry them as flash cards. I will. I wish I didn’t have to do this, but it’s been year seven for Re, and I have hardly come across people who can initiate good conversations with him. He in the meanwhile has mastered the art of ignoring stupid questions or just shrugging his shoulders and refusing to answer them or sometimes telling the said person exactly what he thought of the question.

My approach to kids (even before I had one) has always been simple. I approach them as I would an animal. In that I try and make myself as unobtrusive, yet watch what they are doing, make eye contact when I have a chance and then wait for the child (or animal) to make their move.

They always do.

For everything else, there’s always peekaboo.




6 thoughts on “Talking to kids: Why do adults suck at conversation starters?

  1. Love it! And you make some excellent points. My 2 cents is that those who ask inane questions of kids generally do so to adults too. “Are you married?” “Why no children?” Or “Why only 1 child??” and so on……

  2. Your post is so true. The stupid questions that grownups ask kids these days. At this, kids choose to smile and not to respond. Wonder what goes on in their naughty, creative minds.
    To me, the one annoying question posed to kids, esp the elder ones, to get them talking is – shall I take home your little brother/sister?

  3. I might be guilty of asking a few of those questions myself!! But its only after the kid is willing to talk to me. What I’ve seen is that kids can sense it if you are genuinely asking a question or making crappy conversation to strike a conversation.
    Reminds me of the time when a kid came up to me and asked me “Aunty, what’s your name?”
    That was definitely a first for me!!!

  4. Very useful post. Generally smiling at the child and then ignoring them is the best bet if you think the child is shy. Mine is not shy at all. She loves to make a conversation with anyone-age, gender no bar. Such children are easy to talk to and love all the attention. But there are others who are not like that and we need to respect their space.

  5. Hi, this post really makes me feel normal! Thanks for that. My child is especially choosy in making friends or initiating conversations and most adults do not get that. If she ignores them, they turn to me to help them out in making her talk! And if I allow her to be, they advise me on ways to make her more social! (which I listen to with a smile, and eventually forget about!). But thanks again. Maybe I should just make a flash card out of this post and show it to all of them. 🙂

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