Chat Up Your Date’s Kids

OK, so you’re about to meet your sweetie’s children for the first time. Put them at ease with these talking points.

By Bob Strauss

ew things in life are scarier than meeting your date’s kids for the first time—and, never having had kids yourself and never having been a schoolteacher or a Little League coach or even an aunt or uncle, you have absolutely no idea what to say. “Hi there! What’s your name?” is a fair enough opener, but be prepared for a long, awkward silence if you don’t have any decent follow-up questions (and an even longer, more awkward silence if the kid you’re talking to happens to be 17). What to do? We asked Dr. Molly Barrow, author of Matchlines: A Revolutionary New Way of Looking at Relationships and Making the Right Choices in Love, for some tips. Here’s what she had to say:

Don’t try too hard.
Often the best strategy to adopt on a first date,
Don’t say, “We’re going to have so much fun!”
Dr. Barrow says, is to “pretend you’re a neighborly friend dropping by to say hello—greet the children politely and then become quiet and smile a lot. Remember, in a child’s mind this is a job application, and he or she will be scrutinizing you for any defects. You should minimize your importance by making the meeting casual and quick, because doing and saying less helps reduce this emotionally loaded event.”

Make sure you’re being age-appropriate.
“Toddlers love to talk about their shoes,” Dr. Barrow says, “but be careful not to move suddenly in their direction, because this will only frighten them and cause loud crying. If they decide they like you they’ll move toward you, and you can continue the conversation.” As for grade-schoolers, it helps to rehearse a good story or two, Dr. Barrow says. “Start with, ‘Hey, did you see that Discovery Channel show last night? They found a new fish skeleton, and its head was as big as a cow.’ They’ll be fascinated by you from that point on.” As for teens, “they’ll probably never like you, so just smile and say hello.”

Don’t oversell the date.
A 10-year-old boy can be a bundle of contradictions: He may believe with all his heart that the teenager down the street keeps a
Never attempt to discipline your date’s kids.
live shark in his basement, but he also has a built-in B.S. detector that lets him know when he’s being snowed. Keep your discussion low-key, Dr. Barrow says, and don’t constantly interject remarks like “We are going to have so much fun with you!” or “Isn’t this great?” You’re not the host of a kid’s TV show; you’re that stranger who’s dating Mom or Dad.

Don’t talk about yourself.
“Children are very self-involved,” Dr. Barrow says, “so try to keep the conversation on them. Ask about their school, sports or hobbies and respond with ‘That’s wonderful,’” whether you think it’s wonderful or not. Also, she advises, “Avoid bragging or making comparisons, such as saying you were the quarterback of your school football team, an A student, etc.” This isn’t a competition with your date’s kid, it’s a casual get-together.

Stay frosty.
The first time you meet her, your date’s toddler may try to throw you off balance with a smart remark like, “Is your hair fake?” Don’t retaliate if a child come at you in a negative way, Dr. Barrow says. “Remember, her mom or dad is probably a nervous wreck and is so stressed out by going from diaper-changing mode to sexy that this person is just trying to ignore the kid’s antics—as should you.” On the same note, you should never, ever attempt to discipline your date’s kids: “Always let the parent do the work until you earn real power and respect from, well, just hanging around a lot.”

With these tips and a few deep breaths and a good measure of patience, you’re ready to meet the kids.

Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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