For the love of Christ, engage them about something other than their physical appearance. Do this:
“Maya,” I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, “very nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.
“Hey, what are you reading?” I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I’m nuts for them. I let that show.
Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.
“I LOVE books,” I said. “Do you?”
Most kids do.
“YES,” she said. “And I can read them all by myself now!”
Do not do this:
“Maya, you’re so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!”
People do the “OMG, you’re so cute!” thing with Minna all the time and it bugs the shit out of me. (I mean, I get it, she’s cute. But come on.) It also completely shuts her down because she suddenly feels so self-conscious about herself and her appearance…which has led to her to be more cautious about new people and wary of cameras, the ultimate unblinking eye of cuteness collection. And this is a very chatty, social, and engaging kid we’re talking about here, but the “you’re so cute” conversation opener twists her up into a preztel of self-consciousness that’s so unlike her usual self.