Saturday, March 21, 2009

Children Saying Hello

One of the characteristics of my school that endeared me from the beginning was the fact that children and students refer to the adults in our school community by their first names. The first time I heard, “Hi Dane” from a three-year old, I immediately felt that this is exactly the way a school should be and how children and teachers should interact — casual, friendly, and respectful. It has been my experience over the years that schools believe you cannot have casual and friendly relationships and yet maintain respect between children and adults. Now, in my seventh year at BHMS, I am convinced that it does work, from two-year olds through middle school students.

Something extremely important to parents is having their child say hello when a familiar adult approaches or is passed on the street. I know I beamed with pride when my own sons performed in such a way when they were young . . . actually, that’s how I feel even today. I’ve noticed how parents are concerned that their children say hello as I greet them in the morning at the front door. Here are some observations:

• Children will begin the greeting ritual when they are ready, and just because they don’t do it today does not mean that they won’t do it tomorrow.
• Sometimes it starts with simple eye contact, a hand wave, or not having Mom or Dad walk inadvertently between the child and the greeter.
• Children get shy whenever they are in an unfamiliar situation or with someone they do not know, especially if that someone is drawing attention to them and encouraging them to interact.
• The best way for your child to learn how to respond when someone says hello is through good adult role modeling.

I love to watch kids over a period of months when they don’t say hello or look me in the eye as they pass by, then all of a sudden, without prompting, they begin by saying, “Hi.” Then a few days later, it evolves into a, “Hi” and a cute, impish smile. Then time passes and they say “Hi, Dane” and offer the look in the eye with a beautiful ear-to-ear grin. You immediately sense the pride of the parent . . . all in good time.

Keep in mind that there are times when younger children actually hide behind a parent leg or even cover their faces as they walk past. Much like the middle school student, some children go through periods of growth when they become extremely self-conscious of themselves, especially around adults.

The other day as a parent and strollered child approached me, the child was looking into her lap, and Mom said to her child, Lisa, “Say Hi, Lisa.” And the child responded immediately with, “Hi Lisa.” As I chuckled, I winked at Lisa’s Mom and she rolled her eyes, disappointed but thinking, hey, she’s pretty clever.

So the next time you are looking to your child to perform a friendly hello to another person, you may not get it from her/him right away, but so long as you model the behavior with your peers and friends, I am convinced that your child will follow through in good time.

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