I started asking for advice in a Facebook parenting group I'm in, but by time I finished writing my question, I realized I had my own answer. It's a little uncomfortable for me, but sometimes the right things are.
So. The question:
What should I do about my toddler watching (staring) at people in public? He loves people-watching so much that he prefers it over play. I don't want to discourage his observation of people, but at the same time, staring is rude and it can get pretty awkward.
My answer for myself:
You don't need to do anything about the people-watching except to guide his curiosity and help cultivate his understanding of people. I bet his life purpose has something to do with understanding people! He's learning so much by watching. There's no need to dampen his curiosity.
Are you worried about manners? (Yes.) Well, don't be. Young kids get a pass when it comes to this stuff, in my opinion. As he gets older, he'll learn how to observe with more subtlety. But for now, he needs to soak up every face, mannerism, and voice to figure out how people work--and if that takes unabashed staring, so be it.
And are you worried about how the other people feel? (Yes.) Don't be. Their reactions are a learning opportunity too. And if they're uncomfortable with a toddler staring at them, they can always walk away. A little adult discomfort is better than squelching a child's learning because of some invisible manners rule.
Plus, wouldn't the world be a better place if we all slowed down, watched, and tried to understand the people around us? This little boy is onto something with those wide open eyes of his.
For more content about crunchy momming with faith, gentleness, and boobs, find me on Facebook!
I Could Have Taught My Son Manners, but I Started a Food Fight Instead
What Gentle Parenting Shows Child
Why I Refuse to Call My Son Shy