414. Talking About Children

Sometimes a child says something cute, profound, or otherwise noteworthy, and I really want to tell an adult about it. Recently, a child asked me for help with a math problem, and as I was helping her, I realized that she didn’t need help at all. I said to her, “I get the feeling that you don’t need help; you just want company.”
She smiled, and said, “You discovered my secret.” I was charmed by her self- awareness, her candor, and her sense of humor about herself. There were some students from a local college visiting the school, and almost right away, I got their attention and told them about the incident. They looked toward the child and smiled. I wanted to tell more people. In fact, I just told you, didn’t I?
I didn’t mean any harm when I told the college students about the incident. I assumed that the child would enjoy being a subject of conversation. Or I didn’t think about it. But she didn’t enjoy it at all. I looked at her face, and saw that she was annoyed. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that she didn’t like me telling strangers about her. I apologized, and explained that I hadn’t meant any harm.
Many children don’t like to be discussed that way. They want all discussions about them to include them. I had temporarily forgotten that. But I’ve known adults who make a habit of discussing children while the children are right there, and speaking as if the children were elsewhere. Such discussions can make children feel like objects. And they don’t like that.
One possible improvement would be to time the discussions so that they happen when the children are not around. But that’s still not ideal; it’s still not respecting the child’s privacy. I’ve told you about the incident, but I showed this article to the child before I showed it to you or anyone else. If she’d wanted me to, I would have fictionalized it a little out of respect for her privacy.
Maybe you think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe you talk about children all the time, and it doesn’t matter to you whether the children hear what you say. But it does matter to some children. Children are people, and want to be respected. Some don’t mind if you tell other people about them. Some even like it when you do. But many don’t.
I’ve learned from this episode. From now on, if I want to tell an adult about something a child has said or done, I’ll ask the child first. Or at least I’ll be more discreet about it. When I was an employed teacher, talking about children was part of my job. There were parent conferences, staff meetings, and other situations where children were topics of conversation. Now, as a volunteer, I focus more on being a friend to children. And I’m going to do my best to revise my policy about talking about children. I hope parents and teachers will, too.

Comments are closed.