Give kids space

I had two couple of friends coming to visit me. They were eager to meet my 5-year old, and I could take the chance to meet them first and tell them a little about how to deal with her.

“She doesn’t like to be called a princess, beautiful, or ugly. She doesn’t like any attention from strangers. She won’t say hello or goodbye, I’m sorry if she looks uneducated at first, she is just really sensitive to meeting new people. Don’t even think about touching her¨.

They understood, as they are parents of grown children and had their own stories on the matter.

Then, we picked Luísa up and went for a pizza. As expected, Luísa didn’t talk to them or look at them much. When she asked for the salt and one of them passed it, she said in a low voice: ¨Mom, I asked YOU for the salt¨. Usually, she won’t take anything from a stranger´s hand.

My friend apologized: ¨I´m sorry, I won´t bother you anymore.¨ It was a pleasant night, and soon Luísa was sleeping in my lap.

The next day we spent with them, Luísa was already much more friendly. She played with them all, swam with them and then whispered in my ear: ¨Can we invite them to our house?¨

These friends of mine gave her space. They didn’t expect her to behave nicely and say hello. This the reality of it all. They respected her in a way that not most adults do.

Dealing with people who like to handle children

In Brazil, it’s really common that people come to your house when you have a newborn and ask to ¨hold it¨. I wasn’t much into that.

My daughter was a very social baby, but now, as she’s five, she simply won’t let anyone touch her. Every time we take the local bus and someone grabs her hand to help her get up or down, she will either yell at them and or stick her tongue out as she also did recently to a nursing mom when we went to the hospital for a quick check-up.

I try my best to prevent any of these interactions to happen. And when we are in the street and I talk to someone new to her, I put my hand between her and the stranger trying to touch her head and say ¨She doesn’t like to be touched¨.

If it’s the ¨You are so beautiful¨ approach the stranger tries on her, I learned with this group to say ¨She’s a cat, not a princess¨, this makes the situation get funny (even she can smile) and she´s allowed to growl because she’s a cat. It’s brilliant.

It’s a good thing that I’m on her side. I try to be a good mom, also when I’m overly tired. It’s annoying to have her yell at people and I felt like punishing her for it because I don’t want to tolerate it. But punishing her would be like getting revenge, it would have no valuable teaching.

I try to prevent shocks and I apologize to people if she is rude. I talk to her about how better she could deal with it afterward. Sometimes I get pissed off, sometimes I’m letting off steam, and sometimes I’m calm about this.

We have to be even more diligent in protecting our babies boundaries, when they are very young, for as Janet Lansbury puts it in this article:

“The younger the person, the less able they are to say “no”, glare at us disapprovingly, or push us away. Young children are especially incapable of indicating more subtle discomfort. “That doesn’t feel good. That tickles. Please don’t, I don’t know you yet. You interrupted me.”

Some believe it’s okay for babies and toddlers to be swooped up, “loved up” (as one parent put it), thrown up in the air, tickled, rough-housed, pushed down slides, etc. Yes, they might seem to enjoy those things. When we’re smiling and laughing, our babies want to mirror this, and they are the very best sports we’ll ever find. They’re all about trust. Check out also this article about how to help your child overcome the fear of thunderstorms.

But don’t we want to ensure their security, self-confidence, respect for their boundaries and those of others?