How to talk to someone else’s kid on the elevator

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To an adult who lacks the gene for chatting up other peoples’ kids, there are few things longer than an elevator ride with the neighbors’ spawn.

After all, kids, especially little ones, have yet to learn the elevator art of small talk or middle-distance gazing.   Their slack-faced, unblinking stares--boring right past your fake-texting--seem to say, “You! You’ve got 10 seconds to show me what you’ve got!”

Aiming to help, we collected what we thought was a pretty serviceable list of elevator ice-breakers to try on the under-12 demographic:

  • Would you like to push the button? (kids under five)
  • How’s school? (kids over five)
  • Whose kid are you? (Should not be used when parents are present)
  • What’s your name? (Unless you are already supposed to know. Follow-up: How old are you?)
  • How are you? (Longer elevator rides may require a follow-up question, except for pre-verbal children)

Next we ran our suggestions by a Manhattan sixth-grader.  She explained that kids feel just as awkward in the elevator around tongue-tied grown-ups.

“Adults feel like they have to say something all the time, and they look so awkward,” she says. “People go, ‘How’s school?’ and then when I tell them they go uh-huh, uh-huh. Since they always answer the same way I feel like they must not even care.”

Kids, she believes, prefer open-ended questions over specific ones: “A kid doesn’t say to another kid, ‘How’s school? They say, ‘What’s up?’”

In fact, she says, she'd rather be asked what's up than pretty much anything else in an elevator.

More importantly, she advises,  “Don't look like you're thinking of what to say. And if you can't think of anything, just say hello and talk to the parent.”

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