elevating child care

The Problem With Cute Kids

“We often think that children are cutest when they are most intent and serious about what they are doing.  Patting a mud pie, for example.  They act as if it were important. How satisfying for us to feel we know better.” – John Holt

In his book Escape From Childhood, educator John Holt relates a “most embarrassing moment” shared with him by a friend. The friend was walking in a department store behind two little boys when “feeling affectionate and mischievous, she put a fingertip on each boy’s head. In an instant, two furious adult faces looked up at her, and in a harsh, high, but adult voice, one of them said, ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’”

It wasn’t until many years later that it occurred to Holt that his friend’s embarrassing story belied a common and unfortunate perception – that it would have been okay to touch these men of short stature had they been children, even though she didn’t know them from Adam.

Is it our well-meaning perception of children as cute and adorable that causes us to treat them less respectfully than we would another adult?  Is every child’s round head ours to touch? Are babies ours to pick up and hold; their cheeks ours to pinch?

I’m reminded of Magda Gerber’s wise words, “Many awful things have been done in the name of love, but nothing awful can be done in the name of respect.”

Our love and affection for children is a positive thing, but if we don’t make the conscious effort to respect first, these positive feelings can lead us to treat children in demeaning, diminishing ways.

Not Just Cute, the expressive title of Amanda Morgan’s engaging parenting website says it all. Puppies, kittens and dolls might be cute, but our children need to know from the beginning that they are far more than that in our eyes. Even our babies need us to consider them ‘serious’ people. As Holt writes, “[Children] are not at all sentimental about their littleness. They would rather be big than little, and they want to get big as soon as they can.”

‘Cute’ isn’t a word to be abolished from our vocabulary. It has its purposes. For one, I feel much more comfortable calling someone of the opposite sex “cute” than “hot” (as my teenagers might). But “cute” spills out of me much more than I’d like, especially with young children. Our little ones can be so delightful and charming that it’s challenging to compose ourselves.  This is yet another parenting challenge, but a worthy one: taking care not to minimize, weaken and lessen those who most need our empowerment.

Here are some instances when our children should definitely not be perceived as cute…

1. When they’re upset

Has anyone ever told you, “You’re cute when you’re angry”? Perhaps this only happened in 1940’s movies, but don’t tell me it wouldn’t enrage you if it did! And yet, situations like the one John Holt describes in this passage happen all the time…

“One afternoon I was with several hundred people in an auditorium of a junior college when we heard outside the building the passionate wail of a small child. Almost everyone smiled, chuckled, or laughed. Perhaps there was something legitimately comic in the fact that one child should, and without even trying, be able to interrupt the supposedly important thoughts and words of all these adults. But beyond this was something else: the belief that the feelings, pains and passions of children were not real, not to be taken seriously. If we had heard outside the building the voice of an adult crying in pain, anger, or sorrow, we would not have smiled or laughed but would have been frozen in wonder and terror.”

2. When they express kindness, generosity, love and affection

As hard as it is for some of us not to exclaim an adoring “Awww!” when a baby holds hands with another, a toddler hugs his friend or hands another child a toy, it’s important that we try to restrain ourselves. Yes, these exquisite moments are the good stuff of parenting, rewards that we should enjoy and celebrate. But it’s safer to do so quietly, especially if the child isn’t looking our way.  Our exuberant expressions of appreciation distract and turn the child’s authentic act into a little performance. These acts become a way to garner our positive attention, which can then become the sole motivation for them.

Our perception of children as cute ends up interfering with their intrinsic motivation.  Children might be encouraged to take on the “cute” identity and become unconsciously motivated to exploit it…

“A cute child soon learns to do almost everything she or he does, at least around adults, to get an effect.  Such children become self-conscious, artful, calculating, manipulative. They pay more and more attention to how they appear in the eyes of others. I often see such simpering, mincing, cutesy-smiling, fake-laughing children with adults in public places. They become specialists in human relations, which they see more and more as a kind of contest to see who can get the most out of others.” -Holt

3. When they are focused, determined, brave or trying to do new things

“I used to think the clumsiness of infants learning to walk was cute. Now I watch in a different spirit. Although there is nothing cute about clumsiness – any more than littleness – there is something very appealing and exciting about watching children just learning to walk.  They do it so badly, it is so clearly difficult, and in the child’s terms may even be dangerous.  Most adults, even many older children, would instantly stop trying to do anything that they did as badly as new walkers do their walking. But infants just keep on. They are so determined, they’re working so hard and they’re so excited that learning to walk is not just an effort and struggle but a joyous adventure.” –Holt

These qualities in children aren’t cute — they’re inspiring. And the upside (for me, at least) is that children who are used to being respected won’t buy anything less. They see through the “cute” treatment and feel only distrust for the person offering it — knowing beyond all doubt that they are much, much more.

 

(If you’d like to read more of John Holt’s essay “The Cuteness Syndrome”, a slightly different version of the latter part has been reprinted here: The Natural Child Project

Photo by Jude Keith Rose

 

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67 Responses to “The Problem With Cute Kids”

  1. avatar Setsuko says:

    It was thought-provoking. Thank you. I am going to send the link to the families in my infant class and also share it with my colleagues.

  2. avatar Stacy says:

    I think hearing your parents say
    ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’” to anyone is a lot more disturbing then an adult attempting to play a game with a kid. Not that I think tapping them on the head was a good idea. I understand your point but I think it is taken a bit too far.
    Are you giving this word just a little too much power?
    I see cute and sweet use synonymously. Is it sweet to see a child learning to walk – the determination, persistence, innocence? Is it sweet to see them giving genuine affection? I think the overuse of this word is harmful but not occasionally.
    However, it’s not sweet when they are upset – it’s not cute. I completely agree with this one – anyone’s vulnerable moment should not be belittled.

    • avatar janet says:

      Stacy, I appreciate your comment. The person who said “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” was an adult. A child would probably not respond that way, but just feel uncomfortable. Children don’t feel they have the right to defend their personal boundaries. It’s up to the adults who love them to teach them to do that. Plus, children are very forgiving of everyone, including adults, which is great…to a point.

      • avatar Lorraine says:

        I think children absolutely feel they have the right to defend themselves, and do. It is adults who teach them they are lesser and do not have the rights, but if this is not the message fed to them then they complain in the same way an adult would (well maybe not with the same words, but you know what I mean.) I’ve frequently seen my kids complain when an adult does something they do not like, but they are not schooled and do not see themselves as inferior to adults.

    • avatar Nicola says:

      Stacy: The “children” who were touched on the head were actually adults. Little people. Their parents didn’t say anything. One of the men who was touched on the head looked up and said this. Just to clarify.

    • avatar Vicky says:

      I think the reason people chuckle when they hear an upset child isn’t because they think the child is being stabbed or something – of course that isn’t funny – but because we know that most likely they’re just a bit hungry or sleepy and that their problem will be easily resolved by the parent. ‘If only my problems were so easy to solve!’ we’re thinking. Plus, in a social situation it’s more polite to smile a little when a child is crying; it lets the parents know that we understand their plight and don’t think they’re the worst people in the world just because their kid is having a hard time – who hasn’t been there? Much of the article I agree with, but I thought this part was not well thought through.

      • avatar B says:

        This article has me thinking for sure. Reminding me of somethings I have already known, but forgotten. I do agree though, that a child cries multiple times a day. And, while not meaningless or insignificant, it is difficult to compare to an adult who likely does not cry very frequently, and rarely if ever in public. If an adult is wailing in public, there is surely something terribly wrong. If a toddler is, it could be for numerous reasons, all helped solved by a loving parent, and not needing the assistance of another adult to remedy the problem.
        That being said, I have often been disheartened by other parents minimizing their childs upset feelings, and was angry and heartbroken to watch a mom (abuse in my opinion) her daughter – yelling at her about how stupid she was for throwing a tantrum over something that the mom considered insignificant. I felt so sorry for that little girl and I pray that she will learn one day that she is significant and wonderful and her mother was mistaken when she treated her poorly…..

      • avatar Frannie says:

        I agree with you, Vicky. I smile at the sound of a child crying many times… not because I am belittling the emotions of a child, but because I have been there. It may be more of an empathetic smile for the parent. I had to carry my own toddler out of a store just yesterday, wailing and screaming. I remained very calm and noticed the smiles as well as the looks of judgement. I find my own little one delicious, cute, precious, whatever word I may use at the time. But it is not to diminish her. I am enthralled with her, and am so passionate about watching her figure out the world. Cute may be my shorthand way of expressing it so others don’t realize how crazy I really am :)

  3. avatar Darcie says:

    This is so thoughtful. It reminds me of when I was very little and I would try to express myself around adults and was unfortunately laughed at. They obviously thought I was being cute but it hindered me from being outgoing for quite some time. I could never understand why they would laugh.

    Also, it is a good reminder to never tell stories about my girls as though what they did was nothing less than a funny story meant to share with adults. I absolutely hated when my parents did this!

  4. Fantastic post- and so, so true. It actually makes me angry on behalf of children when they’re patronised like this.

  5. avatar Shereen says:

    I love this article! Very thought-provoking. I’m sharing it with all my parent friends. I totally agree with all the points mentioned, and I do make a point of not laughing or retelling funny stories – at least in front of my son – but this article helped me to see too additional areas that I would really like to focus on changing how I respond.

  6. avatar Sheila Pai says:

    We have an Unconditional Parenting book club on A Living Family, and one of the commenters told a story and asked about this very thing just this week. He was having trouble thinking of what to say to people who seem to want his child to cheer them up (because they are cute). I was having a hard time thinking through why exactly others behavior towards our kids can be so troubling when it seems things like pinching cheeks is so common. Thanks for getting to the heart of the matter.

    Do you have any suggestions on what a parent might say to a stranger who is crossing personal boundaries of a young child or baby? (Something beyond a dirty or angry look?) How can a caregiver make this concept make sense to someone who clearly does not see a child’s person(hood) as something to be respected?

    http://alivingfamily.com/2011/12/04/unconditional-parenting-introduction/

    • avatar janet says:

      Sheila, that is an excellent question. I would simply place my hand in the way and say, “Please don’t come too close, she might be afraid of you. She needs a little time to warm up to new people”, something like that. Most adults don’t want to risk making a child cry.

      Here’s what Magda Gerber says in Dear Parent: Caring For Infants With Respect:

      “What many parents find truly difficult is to ‘protect’ the child from the ‘assault’ of well-meaning family members and friends. My advice is to start out saying that you have learned that your child functions better when given the time to adapt to new situations and people. Do not criticize what others do, just gently yet firmly stick to your own principles — for example, not letting your child be handed around like a ball. Family and friends may tell you or think that your are crazy or exaggeratedly protective. Take the blame; quietly accept responsibility for your stance. Soon they will accept your ‘stubbornness’ and may learn to enjoy you and your baby on your terms.”

      • avatar Sheila Pai says:

        Thank you so much for the response! I think the advice is doable, although folks may not want to hear it, as Magda Gerber said. I will share it on the UP book club post for all of us to learn from.

        • avatar janet says:

          Thanks, Sheila! In my own experience (and I tend to be a people pleaser) this sometimes comes down to choosing your battles and doing the best you can, but always acknowledging to the child afterwards if anything odd or uncomfortable has happened. Maybe even apologizing, too. “I’m sorry I let Uncle ____ take you away from me. I won’t let that happen again.”

          • avatar Sheila Pai says:

            Oh, that’s a great suggestion! I often apologize when I have done something I wish I hadn’t. This is no different! That makes me feel better, to have that option.

      • avatar kali says:

        Some people, whom we don’t know, seem to think that they are entitled to have a conversation with my son. (I really don’t get this behaviour on the part of adults.) He is two and has a speech delay, so his vocabulary is small. He’s also so tall for his age that he is frequently mistaken for being at least four, and we’ve also had people assume to his face he has a disability that he doesn’t when he doesn’t respond.

        I’m going to try some variation on what you said, Janet, for my son when strange people start trying to chat with him. I’ve been looking for a way to tell these people to back off while modelling appropriate behaviour for my son, and this seems to be a good way to do it.

      • avatar Katharine says:

        Janet, I have been scouring the Internet in need of this advice. Thank you!! And in another comment, you said something about “protecting intrinsic motivation.” Exactly the phrase I needed in my toolbox.

        By the way, I’m a recovering people pleaser, too, and advocating for my 9 mth old has been the most phenomenal, teeth chattering, rewarding work, ever!

  7. avatar Meagan says:

    Can’t they be both? My son is 6 months old. He’s working on learning to crawl. It’s adorable, and oftentimes hilarious. It JUST IS. That doesn’t mean I don’t ALSO take it seriously, that I can’t see how hard he’s working and wanting and getting frustrated. Isn’t the important thing here that we not condescend? Not patronize? I think it’s ok to be moved to feel that “Awww” sentiment so long as we also respect them enough to not insult their dignity by patting them on the head.

    • avatar janet says:

      Thanks, Meagan. I think feeling “Awww” and exclaiming it out loud are two different things. I agree that the most important thing is not to condescend and patronize. This is more about maintaining a level of awareness than it is about “right” and “wrong”.

  8. avatar Sarah says:

    Great article and timely for me as I realised a couple of days ago that my 11 month old son has started kissing his teddies to get a (very) positive reaction from me and so I have stopped reacting and instead just state what I’m seeing – ‘You’re giving monkey a kiss, that’s nice.’ Is this what I should be doing?

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Sarah! I think that’s a perfect adjustment. I guess you could even take it a step further and omit “nice”, if you wanted to be really careful about protecting intrinsic motivation. Don’t want to sound nit-picky, though! :)

      • avatar Sarah says:

        Thank you for the reply :)

  9. avatar TheaM says:

    the biggest problem(s) with ‘cute’ is that babies grow out of it, and older siblings can’t compete with it.
    respect, on the other hand, endures forever!
    excellent article 8-)

  10. avatar Nicole says:

    This is thought provoking… but also joy-killing! Parenting has all too many moments that are shall we say, less than cute. And it is often hard work! Can’t we as parents just enjoy something cute our kids do without having to over-analyse?

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Nicole! Of course you should enjoy the things your kids do! I said that, didn’t I? I think that seeing these things as much more than cute makes them far more enjoyable and inspiring. Children can be surprisingly generous, kind, loving, intelligent, tenacious, resourceful, ingenious, creative, witty and the list goes on. Celebrate these moments because they are the expression of beautiful human qualities. Celebrate them in older children and adults, too. But if we celebrate loudly rather than quietly within ourselves, we can steal these things from our child and interfere with their intrinsic desire to do them. I’ve seen children hug, get a big applause, and then bite right afterwards.

  11. Darn it, I hate agreeing. I only comment when I have something to add, not a “Me too, I agree over here!”, and as I started to read your piece I was formulating a contrarian response, but as usual you are thoughtful in your piece. I even wanted to clarify or chime in with some fine points, but I think they would just detract from this piece.

    So, I’ll just say that I Agree :)

  12. avatar Michi says:

    Janet, do you have any suggestions for responding to a child who says “aren’t I cute?” or “am I cute?”. I don’t really know when this all clicked in B’s mind. I know there’s not a day that goes by that when we’re in public someone exclaims “HE’S SO CUTE!”. it makes me feel uncomfortable and i don’t know how to respond. never mind those who want to touch him or the one’s who want command performance from him. arrgh! i just say thanks and move along. Now i sit here everyday wondering if i’m creating a narcissist. when he asks “aren’t i cute?” i tell him he’s more then that. do you have any other suggestions for responses?

    • avatar janet says:

      Michi, I would tell him that, yes, he is cute and will always be cute and that is something people who don’t know him well might say. “If they did know you better, they wouldn’t describe you that way, because you are so much more. You are strong and agile and wise and interesting and kind and loving (etc.). You are many other things that we don’t even know about yet. You are totally unique and “cute” is only a teeny little sliver of what you are.”

  13. avatar christine says:

    i love this post… and along the lines of what i posted on your FB page, i remember feeling angry and frustrated when people dismissed my efforts at something as being “cute” or “funny”.

    my son has SPD and this statement really resonated with me:

    “Is it our well-meaning perception of children as cute and adorable that causes us to treat them less respectfully than we would another adult? Is every child’s round head ours to touch? Are babies ours to pick up and hold; their cheeks ours to pinch?”

    to a child with a sensory disorder this type of space invasion is the ultimate assault. while i was always super protective of my son from this type of adult behavior (i am the mean hippy mommy that blocks strange old ladies from touching my kid in the supermarket) now that we have a diagnosis of SPD i am more vigilant. i often warn strangers and friends alike that he has this condition, that he does not like to have people in his face/space, and that he needs to be allowed to make the initial contact. some people are understanding, others are affronted by this. as if to say “why should i give such a small child the respect and dignity to initiate contact, i’m the adult afterall”. i don’t really care what others think though, i’m his mother, i know what his needs are, and i respect those needs and him as a real whole person.

    • avatar janet says:

      Wow, Christine. You are a sensational mother! Your son is a lucky boy. Yes, you’ve nailed an unfortunate, pervasive attitude…. “why should i give such a small child the respect and dignity to initiate contact, i’m the adult after all”. This is the perception we have to keep working to change. And you are doing that by defending the rights of your son. My wish is that you wouldn’t have to tell people, strangers especially, about his diagnosis. That’s none of their business! It should be enough that he’s a whole person, deserving of same human respect for his personal space that these adults would expect for themselves.

  14. avatar Elanne Kresser says:

    John Holt and Magda Gerber are the two people I have been influenced by the most regarding childhood. It seems to me that their two approaches are so compatible and congruent. Both such advocates for really learning to see young people as full human beings. Loved reading this post.

    Escape from Childhood is probably his only book I haven’t read! Will have to pick it up.

    • avatar Helen says:

      Elanne and Janet, I think they were both very similar. John Holt (and his staff at Growing Without Schooling) was my ‘guide’ when I started educating our two sons at a time, 30 years ago, when very few people chose what we considered a more respectful type of education for our children.

      When I learned about Magda in my RIE Foundations course in 2009 and watched videos of her at work and discussing her philosophy I found it so easy to understand so much of what she believed in.

      I recently finished reading The Legacy of John Holt a collection of tales by people who knew John Holt personally telling how he influenced their lives. I wish I’d met him but he was in my life for many years and always supplied me with courage, even long after he died. Just as Magda does for so many now.

      Thank you.

  15. avatar Genevieve says:

    Great article Janet, so many great points here. Reading it made me reflect on just how much re-wiring, perception shifting we as a culture need to go through in our slow awakening to relating to the child’s real feelings and real needs. This is such a good point: “Our exuberant expressions of appreciation distract and turn the child’s authentic act into a little performance.” There are so many unnecessary interruptions to a child’s very serious concentration on their current focus, whether it’s “you’re doing great!”, “Be careful!” or “oh look at you you’re so adorable”. I love the way you delve into these details that are easy to overlook but greatly in need to hightened awareness.

    I’ve also had a realization in reading this about my relationship with my hubby. He’s very loving, affectionate and complimentary and this writing brought to light why I can’t take his compliments in so often. It’s that irritation because what I look like is so far from and irrelevant to all that I’m feeling or talking about at the time and I instead yearn to draw his attention in to my inner world rather than my outer appearance.

    Not that I don’t appreciate his love and affection, I really do, but I think we all crave that deeper attunement and respect more so and it’s only once we’ve attuned that communication can reach each other in more meaningful ways. Thanks for the inspiration :-)

  16. avatar Genevieve says:

    Janet, another couple of thoughts spurred by your article – have you read Robin Grille’s books Heart to Heart Parenting or Parenting for a Peaceful World? I think you’d really enjoy his writing and find a lot of correlation. He speaks a lot about what you’re discussing here. He delves into the dangers of treating little toddlers like cute little performing seals (I think was one of the analogies he uses)and fostering their dependence on our approval, the danger of conditioning them to attune to what parent might like them to do rather than following their own learning urges. I’ve also wondered if you’ve read and enjoyed Eleanor Reynolds’ book; “Guiding Young Children” (early childhood teacher and author)? Again I think you’d really enjoy.

    • avatar janet says:

      Genevieve, I’m delighted you’ve shared these thoughts with me… I’ve heard a lot about Robin Grille’s books and have now added them to my Christmas list. Will add “Guiding Young Children” as well. Love these tips, thank you!

  17. avatar Clynna says:

    Great article! My dilemma is what do I say to the grandparents that are patronizing my child and crossing boundary lines. They laugh at my one year old a little too often. I know they find joy in watching him and teaching him things so that he will be able to “perform” for them but I find it exhausting and stressful.

  18. avatar Leslie says:

    love all the john holt quotes! great article – as always!

  19. avatar Leslie says:

    Also have to add – this is a tough one for me! i have many moments of trying to stifle my laughter in ridiculously adorable ‘cute’ moments!! Then my son says ‘DON’T LAUGH AT ME!’ What i am seeing as ‘cute’ is very serious to him, and my laughter is demeaning.

    • avatar janet says:

      Leslie, I think this can be a tough one for all of us. As I said, I use ‘cute’ more than I’d like. Your son’s response is indicative of your respectful relationship… The fact that he told you off means he’s used to being respected and therefore continuing to demand it!

    • avatar Olivia says:

      I’ve heard every one of my siblings tell my father: “Don’t laugh at me!”. Every one of them.

      It drove us crazy that he thought we were cute when we were angry or serious or frustrated or whatever.

      I still hate being seen as cute. It’s like you can’t be cute and intelligent at the same time. And you DEFINITELY can’t be cute and powerful. That’s just an oxymoron.

  20. Thanks for sharing this, Janet. I so agree! Holt’s story about the kid crying really struck me. I had an experience once where a group of adults started laughing at my son when he got upset at the park. Another child had a toy he wanted or something like that. Apparently those folks thought it was cute and funny. I was FURIOUS! I actually said to them, “It’s not very nice to laugh at someone who is crying or in pain.” People seem to forget that kids are people too, even babies, even toddlers.

    I also found it incredibly insightful that responding to a child’s kindness as “cute” is totally counterproductive. I’ve seen this with other kids, but I try hard to avoid it with my son. Usually, I try to hide my look of complete adoration and heart-melting when I see him being generous or thoughtful. It’s hard not to be satisfied, but I do think it’s important not to label him as “cute” in those situations. I think it’s working…he seems to act “nice” spontaneously and not for effect from anyone. Hope this lasts!

    • avatar janet says:

      Sylvia, you are so sensitive and aware that I don’t doubt it will!

  21. Thank you for this important post. I go to great lengths to educate the community where I teach, about the competencies and risks that I see children engage in daily (while working with 4-6 year olds). Still, some adults can be dismissive of important stories and documentation of children’s work. Sometimes it just isn’t “cute” enough to be considered of value.
    With continued conversation, however, and lots of examples, stories and explanation (and posts like yours) the beauty and power of children can indeed be elevated as valid and interesting.

  22. avatar Kitty Morse says:

    Great article – I was thinking about this very topic as it relates to teenagers this weekend. I was at a meeting at a friend’s house, and her teenage son came into the kitchen. There was a brief interaction with his mom, and some of the other people at the meeting snickered with a sort of “Sheesh, teenagers, aren’t they dorky” vibe. Even his mom made a face. I was embarrassed for the boy, and thought that these adults would never have reacted that way if he’d been an adult.

    It’s tough enough being a kid or a teenager without everyone commenting all the time on physical appearance or hormonal development. I’d hate that!

    • avatar janet says:

      Oy! Kitty, that sounds horrible. And we wonder why so many children grow up with no respect for authority and dislike their parents.

  23. avatar valia says:

    I had never thought of all these!!! Thank youu! You sure help us into being better people!

  24. avatar Our Mom Spot says:

    This post addressed two important themes: respect & validation. People sometimes treat women the same way too – not being taken seriously because you’re “cute.”

  25. This article reminds me of the movie “Babies”. There’s a scene where the Japanese baby is in the middle of an emotional breakdown, surrounded by toys. She stops crying, tries to piece together a toy, and throws her head back with a scream of frustration. Just about EVERYONE in the movie theatre started laughing (this happened both times I saw the film in a theatre). It broke my heart; there was nothing funny about a child who was clearly suffering and was at the mercy of her emotions. It angered me that nobody would respect that…

  26. avatar Lisa says:

    Fantastic article!! I love it. Respectful parenting has always been the way we do things and I physically ache when my daughter has to deal with people who automatically turn to “oh that’s so cute!!”. I still remember a time when we had friends over for dinner and they were laughing – LAUGHING – at my daughter eating. She was under a year and we introduced solids BLW-style, so there she was chowing down on her “adult” supper like nobody’s business. They obviously did not mean any ill intent, but my daughter kept taking bites and looking around as if to think “why on earth are these people laughing at me?” It’s such a silly thing to have to remind people that children are PEOPLE and need to be treated as such.

  27. avatar Patricia says:

    Dear Janet,
    Thank you for this insightful article. We have been discussing this very issue in our infant class. Some of the parents are worried about the “pass the baby game” that will surely be expected at upcoming family weddings. You have given clear statements that express the parents desire to respect their child’s personal space. Throughout this article I am reminded that young children rarely call each other cute; they take their peers attempts at mastery very seriously. We could learn something about respectful interaction from them.

    • avatar janet says:

      “We could learn something about respectful interaction from them.” Yes, Patricia, I wholeheartedly agree that children have volumes to teach us if we are open. Thanks so much for your comment and insight.

  28. hi janet. i’m a huge holtian. i also don’t like to use the word cute for too much other than an outfit…and i love that piece the cute syndrome. brilliant piece given to me by liz memel.

    however i am surprised by holt’s comments that kids would rather be big then little. in this context i take it they’d rather be big because then they wouldn’t be objectified and disrespected for just doing what they do.

    but to say they want to be something other than they are i think is inaccurate. my four year old hated it all last year when people said “you should raise the seat of your bike, you’re a big boy now” he was like “i like being little. i don’t want to grow up and i like my seat just the way it is” (and why do i have to explain this to some idiot for the fifteenth time!?) some children are afraid of growing up. and i can see why! the responsibility etc.he loves his life as is. he’ll raise his seat when he wants to. he’ll stop wearing diapers when he wants to. he’ll sleep in a bigger bed when he wants to. etc.

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Jennifer! Your boy’s response makes sense considering the inappropriate comments made to him about being a “big boy” (a term I detest as much, if not more, than the expression “Awww, so cute”) I don’t know any children who respond well to being pushed to achieve things they are not ready to achieve. They almost always resist and try to hold on to what is being forced away from them.

      But I believe Holt means something altogether different… Kids want to be important, substantial citizens of the world, respected and taken seriously, rather than cute little objects of our affection. They don’t want to wait until they’re “big” to have that. And I see no reason they should.

    • avatar Renae says:

      People often call my 3 yr old a “big girl” for doing things like going potty, or for simply being helpful. She always tells them that nope, she is a little girl. She gets pretty mad when people try to convince her to do something by saying that “big girls do x,y,z.” I have found this interesting because it appears that she is happy with who she is and apparently doesn’t understand why these people would say something like that!

      However, I understand what Holt probably meant. She still likes to be helpful and try to do things that may be a bit beyond her.

  29. avatar Lisa says:

    My son always ducked and glared when someone would try to pat his head. I would politely tell them, he really hates to be pat on the head. Still some people tried. I thought they were rude, not him. He hated going to church because of this. I told him it was okay to tell adults stop and I don’t like that. It’s his body. When he did often people looked at him like he was being rude and then would glance at me shocked and I would just back him up. He also glares at anyone who over complimented his artwork or building, etc. He wasn’t doing it for them. I wondered if I was doing the right thing but believed in my heart that he should be respected as any other human being. It would not be okay to walk up to any other stranger and pat them on the head as you greet them or unexpectedly pick them up from behind to help them get a drink when they didn’t even ask for that help. It would just be weird to walk up to someone working on a project and start making cutesy comments to them. I can see how that could almost be insulting.

  30. avatar Alana says:

    Fantastic! I actually distinctly remember feeling so frustrated and sad as a child when I was trying to do or say something I considered to be important, only to have adults smile or laugh and say “how cute!” Now that I’m an adult, and a parent, I do of course have those moments when I see children (mine and others) do things that are so adorable and I want to squeeze their beautiful little faces, but I think it is an excellent point to try and remember that we would never do such a thing to another adult (in fact, when you think about it, it seems like most of us give more respect to strangers than to our children without even realizing it). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with finding the things our children do to be cute, but as parents, we do have to try to be mindful enough to avoid projecting that onto our kids. Bookmarking this to read whenever I need a reminder!

  31. avatar Miss Jé says:

    I would have to say a lot of the truth on some of this depends on the personality of the child. While I am a firm believer in not touching other people’s children (unless there is an extenuating circumstance)if you are not on very close terms (then you should KNOW if the child welcomes physical contact or not)with the child. I would say with children who are highly internally motivated external comments can be frustrating or annyoing to them, whereas more externally motivated kids thrive on that.

    Also, some children are very serious children, others are not. Some children handle interuptions well, others do not. Some children enjoy someone working with or beside them, others do not. So I think it’s dangerous to make the kinds of generaliziations Holt is making, because each child is an individual with a unique perosonality, and honestly the FIRST step to respecting a child is to understand that and not engage in generalizations about all children.

  32. avatar Paige says:

    The main reason why adults chuckle and smile at one another when a child is crying in public is not to devalue the feelings of the child. We do this, instinctively, to provide a positive environment for the parents of the screaming child. Without this obvious peer approval, some adults, particularly immature adults or adults without children, become annoyed, enraged, and even abusive toward the parents. But, when this minority is surrounded by a community that is vocally expressing support and approval for a parent and cheerful understanding for the child, despite the “misbehavior,” they are forced to keep their annoyance, rage, and abusiveness to themselves.

    This is a positive community response and one that should be encouraged.

  33. avatar mertyl says:

    I think this brings up a lot of good points and things to consider – but in whose world is it OK to tap other people’s children on the head in the first place? What a creepy thing to do. And the fact that they were little people makes it so much more insulting. Even if they were kids – who just touches someone else’s kids that they don’t know?? Creepy.

    • avatar janet says:

      I think that’s exactly the point, Mertyl… Apparently, there a lot of people who believe this is okay.

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