I highly recommend the article above. It's a thoughtful look about how Americans treat children, from a veteran teacher of 31 years. It helps put a finger on something that's always troubled me: adults treating children like little adults, but also as uppity children.
I come from the South, a culture of authority and seen-not-heard attitudes (though my parents were not excessively such), and have no kids of my own. And yet, I love children. I gravitate toward them at gatherings and they to me. My parent friends often remark about how their kids like me when they typically ignore adults. But I don't feel like a child whisperer so much as I simply acknowledge their presence. I vividly remember being a child and being able to sniff out the adults I liked versus the ones who would have been happy to give me a blender to play with. The difference wasn't that the likable ones showered me with attention; it's that they made me feel that I was a human being with value. They'd indulge my bizarre imagination for the fleeting moment that I bothered them. Or they'd approach me: If I was sitting at the table drawing, they'd ask me what I was working on. Or they'd ask about my report card. Occasionally they'd start a game or intellectual exercise with me.
So many times when I take similar actions with kids, the parents will reflexively apologize. I always tell them, there's no need. I understand the impulse, because many adults are annoyed by children. But still, it's sad. I love to make a kid laugh or otherwise feel good about themselves, especially if I sense that they're in need of it. Many children rarely encounter adults who aren't authority figures to them, like parents and teachers, who understandably have to put at least some distance between themselves and the child. And it's even rarer for children to encounter an adult who is willing to channel their own inner child. (I'm goofy, is what I'm saying.)
Children aren't little adults in the sense that they have matured senses of right, wrong and social tact. But they do share with adults the need for interaction and respect. They're unique that way. They're kids.
I'm a big proponent of understanding kids are kids for another reason — because of myself. I have a sister who is 10 years younger. I was often tasked with her care and transportation, and thus at a relatively early age was compelled to negotiate the disputes between her needs, my needs and our parents' needs. This meant I was sometimes grouchy to her when she did nothing to deserve it. I feel terrible about those times and hope for her that they don't overshadow all the happier memories.
When I look back on the more traumatic moments of my early life, most revolve around an adult screaming at or physically striking me (or seeing the same happening to someone else). When I witness such things now (rarely, thankfully), it always appears to be a case of a well-meaning but exasperated adult trying to treat a child like an adult, but also like a powerless child. When you're young enough, that's beyond your emotional comprehension. Such disconnect by adults is a consequence of holding children to a different, and lower, plane.
As I often say, the kids are all right. It's up to us as adults to make sure we're all right too.