This is an area fraught with danger and difficulty.  I have seen people become completely helpless when faced with a young child for whom they feel affection.  Or even that parental protective instinct we feel in the presence of the seemingly young and innocent.

However, if you feel the urge to pinch a cheek, please refrain.  It can be painful and you are just as likely to elicit disapproving looks from the parents and, if you are unlucky, shrieks from the child in question.

Patting the head may be acceptable, but could also be misinterpreted.  “Do you think my child is a dog?” could be a parental comment.  And the child, while not shrieking may wince and shy away whenever you approach in the future.

Try saying oogie boogie, shaking your face and making exaggerated and contorted expressions.  Strangely, this is often the most acceptable gesture for children who are below the age of speech.  They may even giggle and laugh.  You, however, will look particularly silly and your sense of pride may never return.

For older children, the risk is that they may lose any respect they may have had for you and join in the hearty laughter at your expense that all onlookers will indulge in.  So this is a tactic to be used with caution and only after you’ve seen a parent do the same thing.

You could try words but for the life of me, I don’t fully appreciate the usual expressions.

Some people say, “you’re cute as a button.”  I, however, have never found buttons to be cute.  Mine are just flat, round and shiny.  I see no resemblance between my buttons and my grandchildren or anybody else’s really, although I have seen some curled up worms and slugs that may have that appearance.

Indeed, I prefer zippers or velcro.  In my case, they have been more reliable and are less likely to come undone while you are bending over to pick up a toy.  Buttons, in my experience, come undone in the most unexpected circumstances, especially on shirts, which makes it very difficult to keep your shirt on when you are asked to be patient.

On the other hands I have watched my grandson shrink back in horror when a relative told him he looked good enough to eat.   Was this guy a cannibal or what?

His wife made things no better when she added that he looked good enough to eat with a spoon, which to me, would result in a particularly painful demise as little pieces of your body were scooped out with a metal object.  I was very sympathetic when he backed cautiously away from her and ran downstairs to his play room.

When I was little I was the object of particularly slobbery kisses when some female relatives tried to indicate that they loved me and at that time it felt more like torture than love to me.  This may have been because I was a boy but I am not sure.  I have learned to appreciate slobbery kisses with age and now see them as having a completely different meaning.   But this is the kind of thing that only comes with experience.

So when faced with a young child of 4 or 5, take the safe route.  Say, “glad to meet you,” and ”what have you been doing today?” and you are much more likely to get a coherent and even enthusiastic response.  Actually, you could try the same thing on their parents and see what happens. 

Otherwise I might say you are sweeter than sugar and threaten to drink you up through a straw.