DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have gathered from reading your column that one should not ask personal questions of strangers, nor make comments (even positive ones) regarding their appearance. I have also gathered that the response of the approached person should be civil, but not revealing.
How, if at all, is this rule altered when the approaching person is an adult and the approached is a young child?
My nearly 3-year-old child is approached several times on any given outing, with comments about her (fairly ordinary) clothing and questions about her age, name and favorite color. What we have been doing, so far, is to have me answer the questions (more specifically than I prefer, because I don’t know how to word a vague reply) and thank strangers for their compliments while she remains silent.
I would like to teach her an all-purpose sentence that is polite, but discourages further, unwanted conversation. What I believe she would like to convey is, “I appreciate your interest, but my mother and I would prefer to continue our shopping (or conversation, or walk) undisturbed.” Of course, I know that wording is not correct, so I turn to Miss Manners for something better.
GENTLE READER: If you can get your 3-year-old to recite the sentence you propose, Miss Manners suspects you will have no further problems: You will have plenty of time to make a discreet escape while the now-perplexed questioner wonders at her precocious politeness.
Failing that, let your daughter answer the first question naturally, then politely interrupt and apologize, explaining to child and stranger alike that it is time to go.