You know that voice that lots of people get when talking to a young child? It’s not the baby talk voice. It’s not the “I’m cool enough for you to relate to” teen voice. It’s the overly cheery, sugary sweet voice that adults use to address young children. It’s high-pitched. The vowels are drawn out. Lots of people crouch down to look children in the eye as they pull out their excited, “Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” It’s the voice of enthusiastic daycare providers trying to convince parents that they’re kind and caring. My 5-year-old daughter really hates that voice.
In fact, my little girl hates the way that most adults speak to children, with their forced pep. And she’s gotten to the point where she isn’t afraid to call people out for talking to her like one would normally talk to a kindergartner.
A couple of weeks ago, we were getting ready to see my parents. We were talking with my dad on the phone, getting ready to meet up with him and my mom for dinner. From the backseat, my daughter told my dad, “You don’t have to be so happy to see me, Poppa.” My father was understandably confused. When he asked what she meant, she explained, “You don’t have to get all excited. People don’t always have to be happy.”
My dad chuckled at our independent little girl and said he would see us soon. But the conversation didn’t end there. I asked Brenna more of what she meant about people being too happy. “That’s not real, Mom. That ‘Hiiiii!!’ stuff. That’s like robots.”
At first, the entire episode just sounded like I had a grumpy child on my hands. Or maybe even a serious issue that was bugging her. What if she was having a hard time processing a negative emotion and simply didn’t want the people around her to be so cheery? I started to get concerned.
Then, I spent a little time thinking about the way that people talk to kids, young girls especially. When my daughter interacts with adults, she gets called “Princess” and “Sweetie” a lot. People excitedly ask her about her shoes or her hair. Smiling strangers tell her that she’s pretty or that she has a nice smile. And yes, mixed in with all that little girl adorableness, there’s a lot of overwhelming sunshine and rainbows. You don’t have to be depressed or angry to want to take the cheeriness down a notch.
My daughter, for all of her five years, really wants to be older. She hears the difference between the way that adults address each other and the way they address her. And I bet the biggest difference she notices is that, “Isn’t this cute and exciting!” edge that goes into lots of voices when they’re dealing with young kids. Honestly, I bet hearing it all day long would annoy me too.
Every day when I pick my daughter up from school, she asks if we have anything planned for the night. Normally, she wants to be out, visiting family or playing in the park. She wants to stop at the grocery or go to an extra-curricular activity. But every once in a while, she’ll say, “I just want to go home today, Mom. I don’t want all those happy people in my face.”
My daughter’s stance has made me realize that most kids just want you to speak to them like you would anyone else. Even more, they can spot a fake smile just as quickly as an adult. And forced cheerfulness isn’t appetizing at any age.