The thing about kids

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A friend and I were out with our kids at a local – and purportedly kid friendly -attraction, where we were glared at, told in no uncertain terms to keep our kids quiet, and instructed not to let them run by attraction staff. (Each of these things more ridiculous than the last, especially when you consider that at the front door of this attraction is a gift shop with a gargantuan display of rainbow hued candy, and that the venue itself is a nature conservatory consisting of four huge glass walled pyramids filled with plants, waterfalls and long windy sidewalks, making it resemble a giant indoor park). At first I was embarassed, and tried to shush and slow down my little guy (he is definitely a kid that veers towards the, um, enthusiastic side of things). But then I was really annoyed. I’m still really annoyed. They were just being, well, kid-like.

Which brings me to the thing about kids. We don’t actually like them. Now before you jump all over me, I don’t mean I don’t like them. I like ’em fine (most of the time!). I mean, our larger culture doesn’t like them. Hear me out on this one.

Sure, we’re baby crazy. We watch faithfully for celebrity baby bump alerts and wonder which of our friends will get pregnant next. We delight in baby showers, baby names, baby things, baby pictures and engage in all kinds of baby over-consumption. We read diligently read scads of baby books, but how many people do you know who actually do the same reading about child development?

We really don’t value children. We see evidence of this on a larger scale, for example, our most developed nations have appallingly high rates of child poverty and we think nothing of the fact that those we task with taking care of our children make ridiculously low wages. On a smaller scale, we are vexed by children’s endless energy; annoyed by their volume and exhuberance; inconvenienced over their predisposition to avoid things we think they should do, like sleep and eat vegetables; and we are most certainly ill-equipped to handle the hugeness and wildness of their constantly changing emotional development. (For instance, I recently learned that our dopamine levels – that’s the happy chemical – are the lowest at the ages of 2 and 14. Really, this says SO much about the wildness and unpredictability of emotions that come out of our two year olds – and 14 year olds, obviously!)

We glare at parents whose children melt down in public. We shoot dirty looks at parents whose kids talk too loud, move too fast, or otherwise break social codes of civility. Why can’t those darn kids behave, we wonder? Why can’t they talk instead of shout, walk instead of run, sit still once in awhile, listen the first time, pay attention. Why do they stubbornly dig in their heels in defiance? Why do they tantrum?

But what we really mean is, why can’t they be more like us? More, well, adult. We like to think we have an appreciation for childhood. Childhood is the best time of our lives, we say. But have you ever heard someone say, “Oh don’t be so childish” to a child? I have. It says a lot, I think.

Children are imperfect, messy, impulsive, loud, whimsical, exhaustingly-always-on-the-go, accidents-waiting-to-happen. They say it like they see it and feel their feelings unabashedly and with gusto. They need room to move, freedom to explore, and space for their voices to be heard (however loud those voices may sometimes be). It’s as often exhausting and frustrating as it is cute. But they only get to be kids once. Why are we all in such a hurry to train it out of them?

The fact that my friend and I were glared at and reprimanded at a public place designed to be an educational facility for folks like kids speaks to the lack of spaces in the world that kids can be themselves. If children were valued – if we actually liked children – we’d let them be kids from time to time.

Comments on The thing about kids

  1. wow, Amen….The sad thing is I myself have tried to take the kid out of my two year old be cause of the pressure I've felt from others around me. I'll be doing some thinking today. Thanks great post.

  2. WARNING – Long comment lol: I was reading an article in our local newspaper a few weeks ago written by a Canadian journalist living in France and it was based on the idea that Canadians let their kids get away with way too much of the running around/shouting/being kid-like compared to French children.

    I sort of connect to both ideas. For example, when I grew up our house looked a lot like a museum lol, and the place I was allowed to "make a ruckus" was in my bedroom or outside. I could play other places in the house, but quietly. Also, when we went to restaurants I was expected to stay in my seat and eat my dinner politely whether it was a 5 buck diner or a place that was going to cost us a few hundred dollars. I expect the same of the children I am around and I will expect it of my own children.

    However, growing up I was also allowed to run around all crazy outside, slide around in my swimsuit in the mud, eat snow as long as it wasn't yellow lol, and basically do a lot of stupid stuff I won't mention here because people will likely say my parents were allowing me to do dangerous stuff lol. My point is that my parents let me be a kid but expected good behavior. I find a lot of families these days are either in the bandwagon of, "Their kids, you can't expect them to be quiet" or "Their accessories, and they must not get dirty, speak, or ride their bicycle past the driveway"

    Both viewpoints drive me bonkers lol!

    • I agree 100% It's one thing to let them be "kids" and run a muck and be loud when appropriate, but they should also be taught when to be patient and polite. I was raised the same way you were. When in church I was taught to be quiet and patient, (my dad even taught me to play games that helped like counting how my times the priest said a certain word during the homily, which was great because I went to a catholic school and would often be question on the contents of the homily to make sure I was paying attention) but then when we were home we were out climbing trees, making mud pies, screaming, and running about (dad was usually out there with us, cause really he's just a big kid too)

    • AMEN Victoria! As a person getting a degree in development and family studies I see all behavior in the context of development.

      Just the other day a barely-2 year old child at a restaurant (Sunday brunch, a time when I think even very small children should be welcome in restaurants) stood up on his bench, leaned into out booth and dropped a spoon on me. When his mother apologized I said, "That's okay, exploring is his job!" and she actually thanked me for that.

    • This is a great idea! Maybe in high school, that way the majority of the population would have to take the class. It would be relevant to everyone even if you never have children, because you will have to deal with them at some point, also they are the future population, etc. Maybe it would give our culture a warmer heart, and better discernment dealing with children. Understanding never hurts!

      • Hmmm… you might look for continuing education classes through a local university, or just sitting in on a class at the university (is that "comping"? I don't remember.) I did a psych minor, so that is where I took my development classes. Actually, now that this topic is started, it makes me think that there is a new avenue for people who get psychology degrees: teaching basic developmental psych classes outside of the university setting.

  3. Totally agreed! I am an elementary school teacher, and I'm always distressed by the extent to which I have to train kids NOT to be kids in order for them to be successful in the school setting. I often dream about building a school in which kids can be themselves, and learn through exploration and play. Of course there are times when calm, "good" behavior is necessary, but there are also times when adults need to chill out!

    • I've been known to take my seven year old out of school on a semi regular basis just so he can have kid days, whether it be spending the day with his Grandpa, or hanging out at home with me. He needs the emotional and mental break from school sometimes, it's just so unnatural! I really wish I had more patience and focus to just home school him, but I know we'd both just get frustrated with each other *sigh* There are times (most of the time) when he can just be a kid, but there are times that he needs to be respectful to others around us as the circumstances dictate. It's balancing that's essentially the key

    • I am also an elementary school teacher, and I have always been really tempted by the idea of democratic schooling, at least to an extent. Of course, whenever I bring this up in a "normal" school setting, all the other staff look at my like I have six heads, none of them containing brains lol!

    • I find it really sad that many schools in my area do not allow children after kindergarten to have recess, and expect kids to sit still and behave like angels for a six hour school day. Kids NEED time to run and play and breathe fresh air. When they don't get that, they act up (I know, I work in a day care/preschool and when the playground was snow covered for over a month, the kids had a bad, bad case of cabin fever). How can you expect six year olds to sit through an entire day of learning without adequate time to run and play? Then giving them an hour or two of homework?

      • Oh, exactly! My students only have 20 minutes of recess, which I don't think is enough. I'm always telling people, kids WILL play around. It's a necessity. If they don't have an official recess , they'll create their own recess…usually during math class!

  4. I agree with you that adults need to chill out! I once read of a school in (I believe) England that would take kids outside for several hours a day, regardless of the weather, and just let them explore the area around their school. They were allowed to play in the mud, and run around, and poke bugs and all of the things that let kids learn about the larger, natural world. I loved the idea, and I keep hoping it will catch on. People forget that we, as a species, learn largely by experience, and that structured learning works great until it forces kids to stop learning from the things they actually *do*.

  5. I work at a really small public library. We have a patron that has a severely autistic son, he is almost totally uncommunicative and the little social interaction he gets is at the library. We love for them to come in so he can be out and about.

    Other patrons, they're a different story. They try to make us go shush him and ask the family to leave. We politely tell them to go to hell.

  6. The only time I get annoyed by a kid being a kid (and by this I mean: a baby crying, a 4 year old running, and 8 year old talking too loudly etc.) Is when I feel like their right to be kids has begun infringing upon my rights.

    So I do sometimes resent noisy 4 year olds at quiet, romantic restaurants on Saturday nights or crying babies in late night movies. I think a balance of tolerance from others and good judgement on the part of parents deciding where it's appropriate to take their kids, makes everyone happy.

    However, I have NO tolerance for trying to make child "behave" in a child-centered environment where they are CLEARLY welcomed. PLEASE write a strongly worded note to the higher-ups at that place you were treated so poorly!

  7. I agree of it usually being a parent's choices, not necessarily a kid's. Like the baby crying during a movie example (why are you at a PG-13 movie with a kid this late?). Or a kid screaming their head off in a restaurant (they don't have a kid's menu, take the hint).

    However, to top them all my major peeves is kids with those roller skate shoes in the supermarket being dragged around by their parents. (Literally) It's not like they are running off energy nor did you not know they have them on and are doing something inappropriate, you are pulling them around!

    The husband and I don't really go out to too many "fancy restaurants", it's just those couple of times a year we dress up and go to restaurant that has a wine menu, no childrens menu, does it bother me when kids are being loud. We frequent diners and the kids playing with their toys at the table don't bother me. When they are enthusiastically telling a story, it doesn't affect us, and when they start playing peek-a-boo with us around the bench seating, it's cute and we play along.

    Kids running around in an area meant for kids to explore doesn't bother me. We have had the opportunity to go to the Franklin Institute for some displays. If you haven't been there: they have a medical room with interactive displays and a walk-though human heart. You can hear the room first because the kiddos are running like crazy around the displays. Sure it might be like "woah what the?" at first, then you remember that this exhibit is meant for children.

    I also agree with the point that everyone is crazy about babies, and it's kind of silly. They are going to be crazy kids much longer than they are cuddly babes. I know I won't take it personally the day when our kiddo decides he wants to go to the mall for dinner at the food court dressed like Batman and people give us weird looks. But I think I will be uncomfortable when strolling around with the baby and people must stop us and baby talk.

    • LOL I took my son to a food court for lunch when he had his blankie tied around his neck as a cape and he was wearing a pink, shiny cardboard eye mask! He wore it with pride and I held his hand with equal pride! lol

  8. I agree with you completely on this, but then I cut hair for a living. You would not believe the amount of hairdressers that WILL NOT do children's haircuts, but I do not mind it…I find it amusing. Being an off-beat mom myself I have piercings and tattoos and yes Hot pink streaks in my jet black hair…but I understand I like kids. One time, I was supposed to leave work and this kid was standing at my station and I asked him what he wanted, and he said…you to cut my hair. It made me smile, because most of their parents would never let me touch their hair, but their kids love me…and you know the parents tip me well…because I give their kids a great haircut, and I really think it shows that I enjoy spending time with their children.

  9. Even though I usually smile at the caregivers of a rambunctious young child in a store or restaurant or something, I still needed to read this. My 3-year-old is very smart and very enthusiastic, and I guess he's practicing his reasoning and logic because he wants to argue with me over EVERYTHING! I need to remember that he's just being a kid, and that's okay!

    • Elly – My son is three and giving me a royal run for my money too right now… (Three is HARD and I am trying hard not to, well, kill him 😉 I hear ya! Natasha

  10. Well said! Kids are kids and there is a difference between teaching them to behave and stifling them. Whenever I see parents grab their kids and yell at them to act their age I want to go up to the parent and say, "They are".


  12. Thanks for your comments Offbeat mamas!!

    And I do agree that our kids also need to learn to be respectful and good listeners etc. And I would never ever take my wee wild things to a restaurant sans kid menu or to the movies (even kids movies just yet!) . Context is everything 🙂

    And I did write a strongly worded letter (as did a friend that I was with!)


  13. Great article! I feel a battle in me everyday on teaching my daughter, and step son, how to have manners and follow rules without being to rigid. They are kids and I want them to be happy but I also want them to be respectful. It is a hard job to find a middle ground. I am lucky to have a great husband who reminds me how much fun it is to be a kid with them, yet he knows when drawing the line is necessary. All any parent really wants is for their kids to be happy, healthy, and feel loved.

    Oh, and the reason why kids have SO much more energy than adults is because your adrenaline glands never grow…

  14. I agree that it's important to find a balance. Part of it is learning (and teaching!) which times/settings are appropriate for exuberant kid behavior, and which times/settings are not. Come to think of it, this is something that a few adults need to learn as well! 🙂

  15. I don't think anyone really minds a child who is being loud, enjoying themselves, exploring etc if they have some sense of manners and behaviour. Lets pretend we're at a museum aimed at children more than adults. Kids using interactive displays and being exuberant/loud/whatever wont really be regarded as a problem, they're just enjoying the stimuli available. Kids who are being disrespectful and deliberately damaging the displays etc would be frowned upon (even though because of age or things like learning issues they may not know better). There seems to be a fine line between being a kid and what people generally regard as bad behaviour

    • a very very fine line. and you'd be surprised at what people have a problem with! i've been at the zoo before and noticed people giving little kids mean looks for just being kids. no bad behavior, just exuberance!

  16. A friend of mine still brings up a tantrum my daughter had when she was 2 (she's almost 7 now); she was potty-training and had an accident on our mutual friend's carpet as well. She has sounded a bit judgmental about my daughter's behavior way back then for all the ensuing years. Now she herself is due to have a child in the coming month, and I wonder if she will realize how judgmental she was, or if she will try to force her child into some version of a mini-adult, as mentioned in this article? Because for five years now, she's had this attitude that there's something wrong with my child because she behaved – the horror! – LIKE A CHILD. I fear it will be the latter option, and hope beyond hope that I am wrong.

  17. Amen!!
    As a new mother of almost-six-month old twins, I've yet to truly experience of 'joys' of judging strangers. However, I was quite surprised at how easy it is for me to fall into the trap of judging other parents with their new chilluns…which was, needless to say, disturbing to me. This is a time in our adult lives where we need to be supportive of each other, regardless of the choices that you make for your own family.
    Does anyone have a recommendation for a child development book?

  18. While I agree with everyone who said, kids need opportunities to be kids, and they should also have reasonably "good"manners (everyone has bad days or embarrassing moments)… I wonder if this is a question of culture as well?

    As one woman said, parents in France expect their children to be "better behaved" in public and do very little "child proofing" of their homes. Asian parents also, often, have very different expectations of their children. I have seen toddlers use chopsticks in restaurants, where the non-Asian toddler two tables away is eating with their hands.

    Are we too judgmental the other way? Making assumptions about parents who do treat their children like "little adults"?

    • while children can be taught very good manners very young (my 9mo is better behaved in public than at home), and even a Western 2yo could have the dexterity for chopsticks, i think we still need to make allowances for the fact that young children ARE still learning how to handle their own emotions and trying to learn to control their world. that is very frustrating, and sometimes they are going to act up or melt down. hopefully they'll do it at home, but we aren't all that lucky all the time! i've heard about the French and their non-home-proofing ideas….i just don't know how to implement those strategies at MY house. my son automatically goes for ANYthing that he's not supposed to!

  19. Parents have to balance sculpting children into good big humans while the children are sculpting their self. And at the same time, parents are still growing as parents learn how to be parents. Society needs to have a little more patience with parents and children, maybe give a helping hand instead of passing judgment.

    With that said, there is a time and place for parents and children to be parents and children. Denny's is a great example. It happens to be our restaurant of choice right now because it is parent and child friendly. If I am at wits end and just do not have the energy to make them dinner, off to Denny's we go. They can have a healthier meal then a fast food restaurant and I can let them be them. That does not mean they can make a mess for no reason or forget to use their "pleases" and "thank you's" but they can talk a little louder and they can be more animated while we all eat. We have the craziest conversations with our 2, 4, and 16 year old. Anything from tutu wearing dinosaurs to what makes the mac n cheese orange. Have the time we end up making new friends at Denny's because their other people there that know it is a family place.

    We just need to remember to balance the growing and nurturing with the living in the moment activities. We all need all of those lessons to be good humans.

    • we have a local pizza place that acts as our "Denny's." when DS will NOT nap, we go out for pizza. he's only 9 months old, but he usually just falls asleep on our shoulders amidst all the commotion. we love this place, because they are SO kid friendly — we've never had ANYONE, staff or guest, glare at us on the rare occasion that he is fussy, and he's usually so happy there that everyone loves him. everyone on staff knows his name.

  20. I agree with many of the commenters here. The only time I get frustrated by parents not stepping in, is when kids are doing things that are unsafe. A 3 year old running around in a very busy giant grocery store is a recent example. He was running in and out of displays and darting around trying to hide from his Mom. All I could think was that grocery carts are the exact height of that kids little brain and some one was going to come around a corner and smash into him. I wish the parents had held his hand or plopped him in a cart. Or even just explained why this wasn't a good time to run. (I don't have kids myself but I am a nanny and baby-sitter for kids (about 1/2 special needs kids).

    • i agree with you — let the kids be kids, until they are being unsafe. the other day i was in my driveway and saw the neighborhood kids playing at one of the houses across the street, where they have a basketball goal. some of the kids were throwing ROCKS. the boy that actually lived there kept saying, "My grandpa told you not to do that!" but the others weren't listening. when they saw me they went somewhere else to play, but i couldn't help wondering, "If Grandpa knows the kids are going to throw rocks, why isn't he watching them?" i knew they'd been there for a while because i could hear them yelling from inside the house.

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