I grew up in a family that adored babies and got a big kick out of the little people among us.
My grandmother Nonny kept the church nursery and when I got to help her by rocking and soothing a fussy baby… I was in heaven. From the moment I got my first child-size rocking chair, I took the care and feeding of my baby dolls seriously, all my little girl life. And when I got a real live baby sister, well, call me Little Mama.
At a typical family reunion, children were the highlight and joy, and telling stories about the cute things they did or said was our favorite form of entertainment. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that I had four children of my own, got a degree in Early Childhood Education, wrote books for children and books for adults filled with funny stories about kids. I would rather sit, talk and play with my grandkids than get a pedicure or eat chocolate cake.
A few years ago, my cousin Jamie (now a much-in-demand professional nanny) and I were talking about kids with our typical sense of wonder, and how much comic relief they’ve given us through the years.
Jamie suddenly asked. “Can you believe there are people who aren’t bonkers over babies and little ones?”
“I know!” I said. “Just think of what they are missing…”
Last week I got to take care of a little darlin’ eight-year-old girl, my friend’s daughter, for a few hours.
Here is my Facebook Post from the end of the day:
I will tell you my secret with kids: at some point, try as they might to be shy, they cannot keep themselves from laughing when I am around. My little charge was pretty quiet this morning, a bit shy, using mostly head nods in response while I chatted away.
“I can’t find my apron!” I said, “And I just had it on. I wonder where I put it? I should probably tell you that I forget and lose things alot. I may need your help finding stuff. Oh, well, I will just put on another one. Good thing I have lots of aprons.”
Then I opened the top oven door and burst out laughing. There on the pan was about 50 baby carrots, charred beyond recognition. Carrots I put in the oven and forgot about THREE nights ago. I brought the pan over to this little girl, who was lying on the couch sweetly and said, “Look at this! I burned all these carrots.”
Her eyes got big, and then I added, “I know what you are thinking. It looks like tray of cat poop.” With this she laughed, and began chatting and making herself at home.
A few minutes later I was starting to feel suddenly over-heated so I took off my apron, and realized that I was WEARING the missing one under it, too. The whole time I’d been looking for the missing apron, I had been wearing it! These things, too, amuse small children.
A man, a lawyer friend, who had never had children commented, “Short people scare me. I am so glad there are people like you who love ‘em.”
That started me thinking…..
And so, off the top of my head, I came up with these suggestions for making friends with the short set.
Be a Hit with Kids! 6 Ideas to Help You Connect with Littles
1. Be Silly & Helpless: Laugh at yourself when you goof up – it makes them feel like you need someone to take care of you, and usually they’ll rise to the occasion to help you out.
2. Use the word “poop”: Sometime in your conversation, use the word “poop”. I don’t know why it works but kids will think you are funnier than Will Ferrell. Don’t over-do it, just say it once in a blue moon when they least expect it.
3. Learn to Make PlayDough: This stuff (recipe at end of this blog) makes a large ballof soft squishy dough in no time. Kids of all ages love to help you stir the ingredients together, and get a charge out of watching the magical way the liquid quickly turns to dough in the pan. Give them a rolling pin, some cookie cutters, some dull plastic knives and they will not only be occupied but, mesmerized. They’ll look at you as if you are the reincarnation of Julia Child and Houdini.
4. Do the Straw Trick: If you want to have a 7-year-old boy eating out of your hand, all you need is a straw. It takes a little practice but you simply insert one end of the straw into your armpit, folding your arm over it tightly, put the other end of the straw in your mouth and blow. The noises that come forth will give you Pied Piper-like power over any male under age 12.
5. Flatter Them Like Crazy. When you ask children about themselves — what they like, what they did today, what they plan to do tomorrow – act like you’ve just seen giant daises sprout from their heads. “What? Are you KIDDING me? You know how to say your COLORS? Like, ALL of them? Do you even know RED? Can you show me RED, because that is a really HARD color to find.”
Then watch them giggle, stand up straight and show off their talents as if they were the world’s greatest authority on Crayons and Rainbows. Flattery will get you everywhere. Spread it on thick.
6. Use Wild Stories to Sedate Them: If small children are upset in that way that makes them act like a rabid dog, make up a wild story to distract them. Say, you forgot to get bananas at the store and now 3-year-old world has fallen apart, life is not worth living, they are inconsolable and perhaps even face down on the floor in a fit of No-Banana-Induced Despair. As we do.
Try saying, “Hey! Did I tell you WHY we have no bananas today?!? It was because that ol’ hungry purple gorilla. Yes. That’s right. A purple gorilla was sitting in the middle of the grocery aisle yesterday, and eating ALL the bananas. He didn’t even leave ONE teeny tiny banana for any of us other shoppers..”” This should stop the fit in mid-air as their brains latch on to the magnet-like charms of an ever- escalating crazy story. Just keep going with it, making up wilder and wilder scenarios until the child is laughing and ready for re-entry to sanity again.
I have found 1) humor and 2) creativity to be the two greatest Secret Weapons to putting more fun into parenting, grand-parenting, and babysitting. Or just being a hit with your friend’s kids. No need to be afraid of Short People. They are the world’s greatest source of joy and entertainment, once you figure out what to do with them.
Best Ever Recipe for Kool-Aid Play-Dough
1 c. flour
1/2 c. salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tbsp. cooking oil
1 c. water
One packet of unsweetened Kool-aid any color or flavor (or a few drops of food coloring)
Put all ingredients in a saucepan, and stir it until it’s smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is a doughy lump. Put playdough on wax paper and let it cool a little bit. Then make it into a ball and keep it in a sealed container or Zip-loc bag when the kids are finished making their creations.