Dear Stranger in a Public Place: Why do You Offer Commentary on What Children Do?

Standing in line to buy groceries, a friendly woman approaches me, reaching her thin hand out to pat my 2 year old on the arm, “what a good little boy, so quiet and so cooperative.”

I am unaware of a study that has mapped this, but I would venture to say that, aside from pregnant women, parents, and elderly citizens, children may be the receivers of the most unsolicited commentary from complete strangers, on who and how they are.

Yes, we all love those shopping trips when our children are happy, calm, cooperative, as do we prefer to shop when other people’s children are in such states. But, what does it really say about a child or say to the child in a moment when we (as strangers) offer our commentary? For, really,  behavior in one moment is much like a book cover, which most of us agree, you cannot judge a book by. But, children are often judged by theirs.

A snapshot moment of a child does not communicate what is going on internally for a child. It does not give us a valid perspective for accessing and labeling children.

Children’s moment to moment behavior can come as a result of any sort of parenting or caregiver culture. A moment in which a child is engaged in behavior that meets social expectations may come from being a member of a home in which caregivers are patient and model ideal and compassionate ways of being in the world. But “good” behavior can also be the result of living in a culture in which fear, punishment or coercion force children to behave. The same can be said of socially less acceptable behavior (like a tantrum). Our uninvited commentary on children’s behavior may well be reinforcing things we cannot see– some of which might be supportive to a child and some not.

It is a worthwhile practice to notice one’s own reactions to children in public spaces. Evaluating our own expectations and what implications they have, is a practice that will support mindful communication with children we meet in the world. It is an easy litmus test to ask “Why is it that I want to tell this child what I think of what s/he is doing when I don’t even know him/her? Am I really trying to connect to and with him/her, or do I have another motivation?

© Traci Childress, 2013.

About Author: admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *