This story is part of How to Talk to Anyone, Forge’s guide to moving past the chitchat and truly connecting.
You’re at a holiday gathering, scoping out the scene as the dignified adult you are, and you find yourself making eye contact with a young child. They stare at you for a beat, silently, and then ask whether you think Charizard can beat Squirtle.
You stand there, confused. You consider pivoting back to the table of assorted hummus dips, but you know that you should probably engage. The problem is you have no idea how.
I used to get uncomfortable talking to little kids. I was stumped by their out-of-the-blue questions, befuddled by their stories that don’t track, intimidated by their unpredictability. But after having kids of my own (and spending a lot of time exploring this topic), I’ve come to realize that conversations with children can be downright delightful, as long as you don’t lead with the dreaded “So, uh, how’s school?” I canvassed some other people I’ve deemed “good with kids” — fellow parents, friends, colleagues, and therapists. Here are their tips for how to talk to young children.
Don’t change your voice
A lot of people do that high-pitched cartoon-voice thing when talking to kids. It’s weird for everyone, the kids included. While it’s true that babies respond best to singsongy tones, if a child is past the toddler stage, just talk like yourself. You might simplify some of your phrases, but there’s no need to dumb down your words. They’re socks, not “sockies.”
Believe the unbelievable
Children say some wild things. Go with it. If a kid tells you she just jumped to the moon, don’t be that adult who says, “Actually, gravitational forces keep you on Earth, so that’s scientifically impossible.” Ask her what she did there, who she met, and whether she brought back any souvenirs.
Avoid the ‘Huh?’
There may be times when a kid is talking to you, and you have no clue what they’re saying. It’ll only…