This question has been on my mind for a long time now since I saw my aunt talking to my little cousin (let's call him Luke) a while ago, in a way treating him as "stupid" (I've tried to avoid saying "stupid" but I can't think of another way of explaining it).

Basically, when I'm with him (he is 7 years old now), we talk about a lot of stuff, the universe, videogames, films, cartoons, all the things we both like. I'm more than 10 years older than him but I still talk to him as I would talk to any other human being and I feel that he enjoys being treated like this instead of the way that parents normally do with their kids.

An example of this behaviour happened recently:

We were having lunch together, he was sitting next to me while his mother was in front of him. He said that he was going on a trip with his school next Friday to see an important book (let's call it "X Book") at the town hall. I didn't know what it was so I asked him like this:

  • What is the X Book, Luke?

Then, after him not responding for a second, his mother asked him the same question, only phrased differently, like this:

  • Yeah Luke, tell us all what the book is about and why it's so important.

Something close to a teacher proudly asking a question of their most advanced student.

What happened next was him feeling shy as he was suddenly the centre of attention and then leaving the table without saying a word.

It's really hard to explain by writing but I guess some of you may have experienced this as well and know what it looks/feels like.

So, the question is, why don't parents treat their children normally instead of doing this?

  • My pet peeve is parents/adults who talk about themselves in the third person. I had a Principal who always did it. Ugh! "Miss B won't be happy if you...". "Miss B was so upset." "Miss B wants you to know she's happy!" More than a few students simply kept asking where the 'other' Miss B was.
    – WRX
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 22:52

5 Answers 5


A mother will always have a different relationship with her son than you will.

You have a unique 3rd-party perspective on this kid's feelings, but I think before criticizing, remember this parent has spent 7 years raising this boy from babbling and pooping themselves to the smart young man you enjoy having adult conversations with. It's possible he would have turned out just as great had he been raised by wolves, but it's likely that his mother's parenting, including the way she interacts with him, plays a large role.

Regarding the 'talking down to him', it sounds like his mother is proud of something she knows he knows, and is trying to get him to demonstrate it. He gets embarrassed and runs off. Kids are funny like that. We love them and are proud of them and we encourage them, even when none of that is appreciated at all.

A parent's goal is to shepherd that 7 year old into self sufficient adulthood, where hopefully the parental embarrassments of childhood are forgotten.


One of the most startling things about becoming a parent is finding yourself saying the same things your parents said to you. We are all individuals, but part of every stage of life is filling certain predefined roles.

I've always believed in not talking down to kids, and I try not to talk down to my own children, but I'm not their friend, or their cool older cousin, I'm their parent. I'm often in a teacher-type role in relationship to them, and have to use situations as they come up as teaching opportunities. There's also some unavoidable distance between us, because I frequently have to be the voice of authority for them in a way that a friend or cousin usually doesn't. There's a reason children often have a mentor who isn't the parent, even if their own parent is a great mentor for someone else's child.

It's wonderful for your cousin that he has someone in his life willing to take him seriously, treat him like a peer, and have grown-up conversations with him. But don't judge his mom harshly for not being that person.

  • 1
    I tell my kids all the time that my job is to be their parent, not their friend. Such a statement could easily be misinterpreted as as having a negative meaning "we're not friends" when it really means "we are more than friends." It's a distinction that is only discernible once one becomes a parent. Prior to then, almost everyone wonders what is wrong with parents--their own and other people's.
    – Jax
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 19:08

My background: I can only speak for myself as I've witnessed described behaviour several times but never spoke up and ask why they do so. My daughter is 3 years old, it's about 6 months that she speaks more than one word.

Current situation: When I talk to her most of the times I do it like I would with anyone else. But there are times when I'm not sure if she's able to comprehend what I say, and it's exactly these times that I use the "stupid-language". Let's say I wanted to tell her that she can't use toy X anymore cause it's batteries are drained. She doesn't know what batteries are as well as the basics of electrical current. Instead of thinking of examples like an empty glass of water representing the battery I start by using the same elevated vocabulary but in a "stupid-language-sentence-frame", then realize that what I'm saying sounds very stupid and doesn't help her at all. Most times I stop at that moment and rephrase with real world examples she knows in a totally normal way and most times she understands perfectly.

Conclusion: I think those people don't realize how smart kids are and never thought about/reflected on what and how they are talking to kids. I really hope that those people you mean don't do that all the time but only when explaining stuff they think might be hard to comprehend. To be a little exaggerated: The road to hell is paved with good intentions (I bet kids learn proper speaking quicker if they are talked to in a normal way). I'd suggest Luke talks to his parents and asks them to treat him like a normal person, at least regarding the "stupid-language".

  • A child or a person is not stupid simply because they do not know something. It is not talking down to someone if we respectfully explain how something works. Yes, we need to be careful about sounding condescending. However using azure instead of blue to a very young child is not helpful -- but we could say "azure blue -- like the sky on a clear day". We teach; we explain; we encourage. This is only an example. Saying H2O is is the chemical formula for dihydrogen monoxide is fine -- but meaningless unless we know that means water.
    – WRX
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 20:38
  • @WillowRex I'm missing the link to my answer. Is your comment just an ammendment? To me it seems we have the same opinion. BTW: keep up the good work, I like most of your answers! Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 8:51
  • Yes, basically the same opinion! I think that if we are judged on a minute here or there, out parenting looks a lot different than if someone sees the entire picture. My comment is that it isn't 'stupid' to ask or have it explained. If our language seems condescending to one person, that doesn't mean it is, but sure, we should watch ourselves so we don't make it a habit. I also like to ask what the person does understand. "Do you know why your toy stopped working?" I don't know specifically how batteries work -- just that they do. Perfect teachable moment -- "let's find out!"
    – WRX
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 13:22

I think it's great that you are able to connect with your cousin on this level. It's really important for kids to have someone they can look up to and interact with on an "adult" level, but who may not have all the "baggage" that comes with being a parent. Proud parents often can't help trying to showcase their kids and parents also forget that kids experience the world differently than adults. They think they are doing their child a favor by putting the spotlight on them because when you are an adult having the world's attention on your accomplishments is seen (and felt) as a good thing.

As adults, we are constantly being told that we need to advocate for ourselves. We have to showcase our accomplishments, put them out into visibility to get that promotion, get the votes, get the recognition. Kids don't often need or want those things, their goals are different. Attention from others, even if it is for positive things, can bring teasing from your peers or an excess of expectations from adults.

Maybe Luke's mother doesn't realize that she may be embarrassing him by putting him on the spot. It would be a hard thing for a 7 year old to articulate to a mom without sounding like he was rejecting her endorsement of him. Maybe if you discussed it with him frankly (and privately, but without sounding like you were criticizing his mom) you could help him frame in his mind what was bothering him. Let him talk about how he was feeling when it happened. You may have to make some suggestions ("It looked like you were feeling a little embarrassed...") because that might make him feel more like he has "permission" to feel that way, and to talk about it. Then he might be able to explain it to her, and even if he wasn't, he'd probably be better able to cope with the situation.


Mostly because they don't understand that even toddlers are smart and they are repeating actions of their parents.

I try to explain world to my offspring. I have three kids and I can't always remember who knows what. Even the middle one might have less information on subject I am talking about.

When I get straight question: what is x? I am in heaven. Communication is improving.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .