How To Speak To Children

I don’t have many pet peeves but adults not responding to children initiating conversation is one of them.

The number of times I have seen inappropriate responses to my three-year olds attempt to talk to people is insane.

It’s like people who don’t have children (I assume that is what the majority of the problem is) either don’t see them as other humans who they have to be polite to or they are just so scared about how to respond that they don’t.

For example, we are at a check out at our local supermarket. Julian says, “Hello, my name is Julian.” He adds a cute smile for the full effect. The response from the 25 year old cashier is a micro-expression, a glimpse of a very forced smile, which even I struggled to catch. The three year old eagerly waiting a response to his brave effort of making conversation with strangers, just as he has seen Mama do, misses this and looks at me for explanation.

Or maybe he says it louder, “MY NAME IS JULIAN!” This is cause for panic on the face of the clerk and a hurried finish to our grocery exchange. Julian just looks disappointed.


So most of the time from women at least, he seems to get a response to telling people his name. If he ventures further a field and starts to mention his interests, this seems to shut this particular interchange down.

It goes like this.

“My name is Julian.”

“That’s a lovely name.”

Big smiles from Jules, then, “I like Ben 10.”

Cue panic and a muted end to the conversation. Julian looks at me, sometimes attempting the same vein of conversation to no answer, or he just gives up.

Sometimes he changes it up and might tell people what he has, “I have a brother. I have a watch. I have new shoes.”

Again, he gets the tight smile which he totally misses.

Maybe I have missed something, maybe I should be telling him it’s inappropriate to brag about what he has? I mean I don’t walk up to check out chicks and open with, “I have diamonds.” but still, he’s three and I think I am bang on bringing this ignorance up as an issue.

What are we teaching our children when at least a third of people completely ignore them?

Even at parks, with other people’s children, giving them attention makes such a big difference. Today I was at the park with Leo and there was a boy about Julian’s age showing me how he could jump. I clapped and told him how great he was and he did it again and looked so pleased. Such a small effort on my part.

So in an attempt to clarify this matter I would like to spell out some appropriate responses for those who have “fear of talking to children”, I apologise for not knowing the the correct phobic term for this.

Scary Conversation 1

A child tells you his name.

Appropriate response: That’s a lovely name. My name is……

Scary Conversation 2

A child tells you that he likes a tv show/particular toy or food.

Appropriate response: That’s fantastic. I like that too (or mix it up with, I like……and put in something original)

Scary Conversation 3

A child tells you that he has something/ a lolly/ a balloon/ a sibling.

Appropriate response: That’s great, I wish I had that, or I have one too.

Obviously children get over these types of things and maybe I am being protective Mama bear about this issue, but if you have the same gripes as me please share this post. 

Maybe, just maybe one or two people will read this and make a few little kids very proud that they had a conversation at the supermarket, just like a big person. 


  1. wow – that is so true and beautiful – i used to think the same thing when my kids spoke up – my son is extremely shy and sensitive so if he was brave enough to speak up and then ignored It would break my heart !

  2. Thanks for posting this, I agree, it’s so sad. My children used to smile at people from their pram when out shopping, and get no response, this really saddened me too. x

  3. Similar to Julian, my little one assumes the stranger didn’t hear her attempted ‘hello’. So, she proceeds to say it louder and on repeat mode. ‘HELLO. HELLO. HELLO!!!’ Often the stranger looks at her like she’s unruly and rude for “shouting.” And I think, ‘Really? You just ignored a sweet little girl. Who is rude now?’

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