Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Don't Smile at Children!

Earlier this week, while walking down the street, I passed a young mother out with her two young children. In the stroller pushed by the mother was a young baby, less than a year old, and at his mother’s side, holding her hand, was a toddler, about three or four years old.

There’s not too much to be said about the baby who appeared to be less than six months old; for the most part, babies of that age all look pretty similar. They’re small, have big eyes, round faces and arms and legs, hands and feet, fingers and toes that more closely resemble sausage links than part of the human anatomy. And since babies don’t begin to show emotional reactions to outside stimuli until about six months, there wasn’t a whole lot keeping me interested in the little tyke besides the “Look! It’s a baby!” instinct that most of us have.

Cute Kid Photo by Ashley Cox

I took a much greater interest in the toddler walking at his mother’s side. He wore a matching t-shirt and cotton short set, strap on sandals and a blue ball cap. He kind of hopped, skipped and jumped down the street, occasionally tripping over his own feet. I could tell that he was still getting used to his sandals; it is after all, the beginning of the summer footwear season. He seemed to be humming/ singing/ mumbling to himself, as he hopped/ skipped/ jumped down the sidewalk, all the while taking in the sights and sounds around him. His head appeared to be on a swivel. His mannerisms reminded me of what I must have looked like as a child.

Given my amusement with this little fellow, when his swiveling head turned to me, and he looked directly at me (young kids aren’t afraid to make eye contact), I gave him a friendly smile. I don’t know what he thought of my amicable gesture, for before I could try to gauge his reaction, his attention had already shifted, and his head swiveled to something more interesting on the streetscape.

This encounter got me thinking though: why do we smile at cute kids we see on the street? I can recall as a child always being a little bit puzzled as to why adults would smile at me for what seemed to me to be no reason at all. Sometimes, it was downright annoying.

I can recall a specific instance – I must have been four or five– when I was sitting in the back of the car, while my mom was driving through a Drive Thru window at Tim Hortons. While my mom was paying, or getting her coffee, the back driver side window of the car must have been open (or maybe it was before the days of tinted windows), and the Drive Thru attendant saw me sitting in the back (probably looking so adorable), and smiled at me. I remember thinking to myself, Jeez! I’m just a kid trying to live my life! Why do people always have to smile at me? It never occurred to me to smile back at any of these strangers, just as it probably never occurred to the little fellow on the street to return my friendly grin. Maybe I was just late in developing social skills as a child.

Today, I guess I still don’t really understand why we smile at cute kids. It’s probably more of an involuntary social impulse. If today’s kids feel the same way about the phenomenon of smiling adults as I did at that age, maybe I’ll start making a conscious effort to grimace at cute kids I see on the street, so as not to annoy them.


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