Kids make the world a better place. And they make me very happy! They learn from us, but they also teach us if we accept the role of a pupil. I believe making friends with younglings is an art of the heart. They speak a different language – it has a grammar and a syntax different from adultspeak. So, some unlearning is required. And lots of patience. From my little experience I find that almost every kid out there is eager to find a friend in you. The problem is adults want kids to like them as adults. That is not how you start!
I see strong similarities in kids and pets (specially dogs). They are hungry for love. And they want to play with you. How you approach them is very important. The way I do it is present myself as available and waiting. You cannot demand friendship! To exemplify, I draw upon two recent experiences. The first was during my visit to London. I had a gift for a four and a half year old boy. He wanted the gift but His Highness was adamant about two things – one, he did not like me and two, he did not feel like saying “thank you”. Sufficient effort was made but the kid would not budge (no surprises there). The way I saw it was simple. The child was saying “see, if you want to be friends you will have to do more than just give me a gift”. I bid my time. After the persuasion from other adults had died down and the kid had time alone with the gift, I walked over to him and told him about this story behind the gift. Doesn’t he want to know about it? He sure did. Twenty seconds and an impromptu story later, he gladly said thank you and gave me a hug. We were friends.
The other incident happened when I recently met Soumya, a friend’s soon-to-be-four daughter. She walked into the room and we looked at each other. I think I said something like this “Hello! What is your name?” to which she replied “Soumya”. I then said, “Lovely! I’d love to talk to you. Can we do that? to which she replied “no” with a shake of her head. Hmmm… talk of hitting a wall! So, I went back to my chair. But I kept stealing glances at her, and she would do the same. I would tilt my head and smile. She picked the cues and it soon became a game (by the way, this is my favorite first trick). And that is exactly my point. If I were to go back and become an adult, the kid will take a lot longer to connect. Kids love games . They also appreciate when they are taken seriously. It is kind of an oxymoron. They want you to talk to them as if they are responsible adults. But they also want you to play with them. In the picture above, Soumya has this umbrella opened for no reason at all. Aren’t kids amazing? Would an adult ever do that – enjoy an umbrella? No, we open umbrellas only when it is raining and we hardly ever pay attention to the fact that umbrellas are rather pretty. But kids are not chained by adult limitations. Their world is full of sights and sounds that poor adults miss out. To get a child interested in you, all you have to do is get interested in ‘their world’. Soumya and I became fast friends over the next few minutes. She was an easy child to befriend – shy but responsive. And she gave me the best compliment possible when she allowed me to feed her dinner. Though that did not go well with Pari, the other kid in the group, who insisted to be fed by me even though she was not hungry. So, I had these two kids sitting on either side eating spoonfuls served by me. Bliss!
In a few days, I am going to face my toughest test ever. I have been invited to talk about Indian culture to a class of American preschoolers (4 to 5 years old). I have never interacted with kids in a classroom setting and so I am full of nervous excitement. Holding the attention of sixteen kids for twenty minutes is not going to be easy. Will post here how I fared.