My Uncle Jacques is one of those people who knows how to talk to a kid. I once was a kid he could talk to, even though we speak different languages.
This shows that you don’t really have to talk to be able to talk to a kid. At least, you don’t have to use big words or express sophisticated thoughts that require a common language. You can use simple words and convey basic things, even speaking different languages. It may be better that way.
The most basic thing Uncle Jacques conveyed was that he was interested in me. He got that across by spending time with me. Whenever I visited him in Montreal, he would whisk me away on the Metro to explore the city together, leaving my mother and aunt behind. I don’t know if Uncle Jacques perceived I was a frustrated explorer or it was just a lucky guess; but in showing a big foreign city to a sheltered small town American, he gave me the very thing I most craved.
This brings me to the next principle of how to talk to a kid, as exemplified by Uncle Jacque. Either get interested in something the kid loves or show the kid something you love. In this case, we were two for two. I loved exploring and he loved his city. It was a match made in heaven.
Not having a common language, Uncle Jacques could easily avoid the mistakes many adults make when they try to talk to a kid. He never talked down to me, asked massively boring questions like how is school, or talked when I didn’t feel like talking. He did teach me to sing Alouette, which is a silly, whimsical song when you don’t know what the words mean.
I think eye contact and face-to-face encounter intimidates kids too much for you to be able to talk to them. Most of my interactions with Uncle Jacques were side-by-side, walking, or looking at something, not interrogating me at the dinner table. Uncle Jacques is a big man. He was a butcher and could carry hogs on his shoulders. But he never seemed big to me. He was always kind, unpretentious, and approachable.
Since kids don’t always know how to act, there will be times when you, as an adult, will have to teach them. Uncle Jacques must have disciplined me, but I don’t remember. That also shows he knows how to talk to a kid. He was able to discipline without the kid remembering being disciplined.
I wonder whether Uncle Jacques’ kids would say that Uncle Jacques knows how to talk to a kid. I think it’s harder to talk to your own kid and harder for your own kid to be satisfied with the way they’re being talked to. The standards are higher; the opportunities for error more frequent.
When a kid grows up to become an adolescent, it can be harder to know how to talk to them. I remember explaining that I wasn’t ordinary like he was. I was an artist. Uncle Jacques listened respectfully. If he rolled his eyes and smirked, he waited till I was gone. I was no artist. I was a stereotypically egotistical teenager. Uncle Jacques was the extraordinary one.
If you really want to be a person who knows how to talk to a kid, be the kind of person the kid can admire, even when the kid doesn’t know enough to admire you now. Uncle Jacques was not a baseball player or anyone remotely famous. I didn’t realize he was a person to be admired until I got older. Later, as his neighborhood filled with immigrants and refugees, he stayed in that neighborhood and became a kind of informal social worker, rather than getting xenophobic, helping them adjust to their new lives.
People like Uncle Jacques are as vital to a city’s wellbeing, as they are to a child’s development; but they go about their work quietly. They don’t call attention to themselves; they pay attention. You can’t learn how to talk to a kid by following a recipe; you learn by paying attention to the kid. That’s how you talk to a kid; be the kind of person a kid wants to talk to.