Last night, my daughter and I were out doing a bit of shopping. Since Halloween is officially over, she’s decided that she needs to get ready for her favorite upcoming holiday. Needless to say, we got a lot of red clothing last night. And as my daughter was walking around the department store, I was struck by the number of retail workers who seemed to think that anyone under five feet tall was incapable of understanding English.
My 4-year-old daughter frequently does her own shopping now. I don’t bother picking out her clothes, because then she can’t tell me that she doesn’t want to wear something. It’s all clothes that she chose, so she has to put them on in the morning when we’re running late for school. As Brenna perused the racks and asked me to find her size, an employee came up and pointed to the boots my daughter had in her hand. “Did you pick those out all by yourself?” she asked in that slow, overly excited voice people reserve for young children. Brenna simply replied, “Yes, they’re for me.”
The woman looked shocked that my child managed to string together a sentence. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times that she gives one-word answers, especially to people she doesn’t know. But still, the level of awe seemed a little extreme.
Later, after we had tried the clothes on and were putting things back that we weren’t planning on buying, the same woman approached us. She saw my daughter place a tee-shirt at the front of the rack. (Since she wears an extra-small still, that’s conveniently where the thing is supposed to go.) “You didn’t like that shirt?” the same woman asked when she saw us. “It didn’t fit,” my daughter told her. “Oh! Well we have other sizes,” the woman started to direct her attention to me so that she could get us a new size. Instead, my daughter responded, “I wear the smallest size for kids and it’s not in the baby section.” We had already checked to see if the shirt was available in the largest toddler size. My daughter gotten really used to being stuck in between 5T and girls’ 6.
I realize this whole conversation doesn’t sound like the most shocking thing in the world. It was a retail person helping a kid and her mom. And yet, the tone and facial expressions from this woman were just so uncomfortable. Every time my little girl opened her mouth to do more than insert her thumb, it was like the lady was dumb-founded. And even after my little girl had demonstrated that she was capable of a normal conversation, the woman continued to address her in this drawn out and very loud way. By the way guys, little kids, even ones too young to have a conversation, aren’t deaf. They can hear you.
When my daughter was younger, it didn’t seem as surprising to have people treat her like she had no clue what was going on in the world around her. After all, she was pretty young. As she’s gotten older and more independent, the break between her level of competence and where people to expect her to be is growing. I don’t think it’s because my daughter is advancing super fast. I think it’s because people don’t realize how quick kids grow.
Every time she orders for herself at a restaurant, waiters and waitresses act like she’s performing a trick. When friends of the family ask her about school and she begins to explain that it would be better if it started later in the day so that she could sleep in longer, they giggle and ask where she got that idea. I try to remove the snark from my voice when I reply, “She came up with it all by herself.”
The worst thing about people treating my child like she’s incapable of forming thoughts or sentences is that I’m worried Brenna will start dumbing down to their expectations. After all, plenty of kids thinking acting like a baby is a great way to get attention and earn the adoration of adults everywhere. Sure, every little kid has times when they’re going to act like, ya know, little kids. But I want my daughter to see that speaking for herself and making her own choices aren’t just quirks of her own. I want those traits to be second nature, to be expected.
The best cure to whining immaturity is to speak to little kids just like you would to any other adult. For all those who deal with children on a regular basis and complain about their poor manners or immature antics, I have a pro-tip for you. Start treating them like human beings that are expected to think and function on their own. Those kids might surprise you.