One of the behaviors that I observe in many adults, mainly males is what can be called having fun with a child at the child’s expense. This behavior on the part of the adult usually consists of teasing, kidding, tickling, or taunting a child. It is obvious as you observe the adult that the adult seems to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. It is also obvious that the adult believes that they are bringing joy to the child and “making” the child “like” them.
Adults who exhibit this behavior go through their antics with the enthusiasm of a true performer and, even if the child tries to avoid the adult, the adult persists. If you ask the adult to stop they act as if you have the problem and they are the “good guy” bringing joy into the child’s world. It is also interesting to note that if the child responds to this behavior with similar behavior which, because of their immaturity, may become intense or persistent; the adult will switch modes and become an authority figure expecting the child to change instantly also.
What is wrong with this picture? Let’s examine some of the assumptions of the adult who is acting in this manner.
1. The adult behaving in this manner is usually an outgoing person who enjoys others and is probably a caring person. The problem is that they assume that the role of the adult is to entertain or bring excitement into the life of the child. A child does not need entertainment that is bravado and fluff. Entertainment for a child should not be done to excite because excitement confuses the child. Entertainment for the child should be designed to bring joy and exposes the child to the beauty of this world.
2. Another assumption this adult is making is that children think like adults. They think if it brings an adult joy or happiness such behavior will automatically be enjoyed by the child. The child is just learning about the world they are not learned or are familiar with the subtleties that adults take for granted. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I told a child of five a joke the other day. I said, “Why do you whisper in the corn field?” The child answered, “I don’t know.” I replied, “Because the corn has ears.” The child then responded, not by laughing, but by saying, “Corn doesn’t have ears.” When the child doesn’t understand the double meaning of the word “ears” it seems funny. But it is fun at the child’s expense, not as a shared experience.
3. This adult also thinks that they have the capacity to instantly endear themselves to the child. This is what I call the “clown” mentality. Even though we may enjoy watching the antics of a clown he/she is not someone we want to form a deep and caring relationship with.
4. Adults who have fun at a child’s expense are usually individuals who are unsure of themselves and not yet fully capable of entering the world of the child. When you are unsure of yourself you will either brag or put others down. Bragging is a way of saying, “See I’m really OK.” Putting others down makes one look better in comparison to others. When you have fun at the child’s expense you are either bragging to other adults by hoping that they look at what a great person you are with kids. or you are treating the child as a toy or inferior to show how great you are.
This article would be incomplete if all I did was explore the behavior of adults who have fun at the child’s expense. Because the real hope of this article is that we as adults will recognize what we are doing with kids and slow down enough to truly enter the world of the child.
To do this we must not feel disposed to have fun with or entertain. Rather the adult who wants to become a true influence in a child’s life must observe, listen, and follow the child. Adults must model rather then entertain. We must enjoy the child right where he or she is at the present and be patient as the child grows. We must also be patient with ourselves as we grow with the child. If we can do this then the real joy and beauty of the “growing up” process can be ours to enjoy with the child. Otherwise we end up being just entertainers and fun lovers as the child does his own inner work of growing without us as part of their world.