Well, we are, but we aren’t.
Anyone who has seen Tiny Smalls and I together, or her with her dad, they’d know that we are really affectionate. She’s all about the hugs and the sugar (that’s kiss for those of you who don’t know) and is usually climbing all over us, touting her snaggle-toothed grin. But when it comes to other folks outside our immediate circle, no ma’am.
I have never and will never force my child to hug or shake hands or even chuck deuces to someone she may not be comfortable interacting with. Nope, not gonna do it. When we force our kids to do this, we peel away their agency and begin to impress into their brains that they must show adults affection — even when their gut is throwing up stop signs.
I’ll never forget a time when I was around 5, hanging with my gramps and we ran into a relative that I didn’t particularly care for. She went to hug and kiss me and I said “No.” Instead of forcing me to show faux-affection, my grandfather let her know, politely, that no love would would be shown that day and we went about our business. No harm, no foul. That was one of the first instances when I realized that I was a person and that my feelings and thoughts were important. Yay!
Children are much better judges of character than adults, since they have yet to be socialized to become sheeps in the flock. They trust themselves and their intrinsic knowingness, as they should. How many adults do you know who are re-learning to trust themselves? Mmm hmm!
This is not about being rude, aloof or trifling; it’s about giving Tiny Smalls the tools she needs to make her way in the world as best as she possibly can. How many of our children have been harmed by adults they’ve been mandated to trust? According to the American Psychological Association, 90% of children are abused by someone they know and trust. I’m not saying that abuse is 100% preventable, but how many of us give our children the opportunity to give their opinions either verbal or non-verbal about the adults we bring into their lives? How many of us take them seriously when they say they don’t like cousin Boo Boo?
I clearly recall a time when Tiny Smalls was a baby and we were at a local diner placing our order. Several folks peeked into her stroller and she gave them the gummy grin, but when this one woman tried to get closer, she gave her the mini-stink eye and began to pout. At that point, I told the woman that she needed to back up, as my child is feeling some type of way. She did because, well, she didn’t have much of a choice. There have also been times when strangers on the street have said hello and she’s given everything from a curt “no, thank you” to speeding up and walking faster. She knows what she knows and I trust her knowing.
And that’s what it comes down to, trust. We have to trust that our children have insight into their own lives and needs, paying attention to their cues while doing what we feel is best for them.