Early years

Are You Forcing Your Child To Say Hello?


Are You Forcing Your Child To Say Hello?

Forcing your child to say hello, shake hands, give a kiss or hug to a friend, acquaintance or relative. What do you think?

I just had an encounter last week at dinner where a complete stranger (restaurant owner) decided he could ruffle my 3-year old’s hair and then asked to shake his hand. My son felt visibly uncomfortable after the hair ruffling and I could see his whole body cringe when the guy put his hand out to shake it.

Everyone at the table chimed in that my son had to shake hands and say hello. Except for myself and his Dad. I firmly said he didn’t have to shake hands if you didn’t want to. I asked him if he was uncomfortable or sad and he nodded yes. He said he was sad the man had touched his hair.

Why did I do this? Because this is the first step in teaching CONSENT! Consent and respecting another person’s personal space and body is an extremely important lesson to teach our child. Those lessons start at a young age when they are 3 not when they are 13.

Would you allow a complete stranger to ruffel your hair? I don’t think so. Would you be happy if a relative (loved or not) grabs hold of you and gives you a big smooch? I doubt it. Would you feel safe/secure/relaxed/comfortable if your spouse/partner pushed you onto another adult who expected you to great them with a hug? Definitely not.

Let’s ask ourselves, why do we allow this behavior on children if we don’t allow it on ourselves as adults? The point of letting children choose whether they want to give hugs, kisses or even shake hands is not about letting them be rude or letting them get away with getting out of social etiquette.

This choice is empowerment. It’s letting your child know his/her space and body are their own. They get to choose who can come into that space. Isn’t that a completely natural and important lesson to learn?

This is the kind of message children need to hear so they know when to say no when a touch feels inappropriate. So they can know it’s safe to come to a grownup and that they WILL BE HEARD and helped.

They need to hear this message so that when they are young men and women they understand what NO means and that NO is an option they have a right to voice.

Some of you who read this might think this is an exaggeration. It’s just a handshake, it’s just a kiss, it’s just a hug. It’s only for her uncle, it’s only for their aunt, it’s only for the restaurant owner. Where do you draw the line? How can a 3-year old understand where the line is drawn?

To them it’s simple; they felt visibly uncomfortable yet their needs, feelings, comfort, security, and emotions were ignored/dismissed/set aside to abide by social niceties.

I will do my best not to be the parent who does that. I will do my best to be the parent who listens to my child, sees the cringe, recognizes the sincere discomfort and supports their choice ❤️

I hope you join me as we all try to be that parent who teaches that security, boundaries, limits, and consent are far more important than societal pressure and niceties ❤️



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Jailan Heidar

Jailan Heidar is an Egyptian parent educator currently living in The Netherlands. She has a MSc. in Child and Family Studies from Leiden University. She specializes in providing parenting support to parents of children from 0-5 years through her website EarlyYearsParenting.

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