68. “Good with Kids”

Sometimes a person is said to be “good with kids.” I think the phrase implies some special talent or insight. A friend suggested that I write an article examining what makes people “good with kids,” and I searched my soul for “the” answer. I thought about my childhood, and tried to remember whether there were adults I particularly liked. There were, but I don’t think it was because I was a kid. Oh, sure, there were adults who would tickle me or give me candy, but those approaches were not keys to my heart; they didn’t make those adults more memorable or likable.
I think being “good with kids” is like being “good with Presbyterians” or “good with pedestrians.” Children are not a homogeneous group. They all share some characteristics (e.g., youth, lack of voting rights, relatively limited material for nostalgia), but you can’t define any person by an arbitrary set of traits and thereby come closer to knowing the person.
People do try, though. The tendency to approach certain groups that way, and the resulting behaviors, are sometimes called bigotry. Everyone has a little bigotry; there are billions of people in the world, and try as we may, we don’t give them all equal consideration.
But there is something unique about the group called “children.” Everyone will have the same answer to “Are you now or have you ever been a child?” So maybe being “good with kids” is about remembering. I’ve often suggested that people who do work with children work best with the age child they enjoyed being, and my informal research so far confirms the hunch. And people who would prefer to forget their childhoods often also prefer to avoid spending time with children.
I can’t separate being “good with kids” from being good with people. It means listening, respecting, caring – being aware of their humanity. Everybody likes to be heard, respected, and cared for. We can stop liking candy, and realize that we don’t want to be tickled, but the confection and the giggling are not the essence of childhood. Jane Wagner, creator of some of Lily Tomlin’s Edith Ann monologues, writes, “Some people drive by our school and see children laughing and playing. They think that’s all children do, but it’s not. That’s just recess.”

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