I didn’t want to be one of those parents. I didn’t want to be the guy who got upset when you said something about his child. Or the father who didn’t let people come all close to the child’s face and start saying things that even babies couldn’t understand.
So far, I haven’t turned into that guy. But I’ve come close. I’ve come close to slapping the hand of some stranger who went to touch my son when greeting him. Where I come from (76th & Normal on the south side of Chicago) you did touch other people’s kids, but you always touched the kids of other people you knew. Fine distinction. The kids weren’t strangers. They just belonged to other people’s. Of course, most people don’t go about reaching into the faces or for the hands of people they see on the street. But it happens. So, in the spirit of having the community raise my child, like the African American tradition I come from, I offer the following things to consider before touching somebody else’s child.
- Have you talked to the parents yet? If you haven’t had a conversation, introduced yourself, said “Good morning” or something to that effect, reaching for the child is a misstep. Address the adults with the child. People do bad things to children, and new fathers are always remembering that in public places. That’s why they have leashes around their children. So speak to the adults before moving toward the children.
- Greet the child without physical contact. Don’t touch the kid first. Touching is intimate behavior. When was the last time somebody took a thumb to your face after they first met you? Really. It’s socially appropriate to make contact but probably when you’ve developed a kind of bond that makes it appropriate.
- Asking is always appropriate. “I am touchy feely person. Do you mind if I greet your child?” This will always get you the parent’s response. So ask. If they say, “no,” you’ll appreciate having been told as opposed to the potential conflict from not having asked.
- Your child may not want to be touched. This is, of course, for the parents, not the touchers. My kid doesn’t like men. He screams if a man approaches him. Even uncles have had the bruising experiences of his attitude. He gets to know people and then he’ll allow them to hold him. Learn your kid’s response and try to ease his or her passage into the social world. Look out for them and take up for what they want.
- If you’re passive, buy a t shirt. There are shirts and onsies that communicate all kinds of things. You can purchase one for your kid that says what you won’t, “Don’t touch me.” Or “Touch me and you’ll die.” You could also print and tape a sign onto your stroller. But you’d really look like a jerk then.
- Keep your kid in plastic. Have you seen those strollers that protect kids from the rain? I’m convinced they’re health hazards. I don’t know anyone with them, but I see them all the time, and I fight the urge to ask the parents why they wrap those children in Reynolds wrap. But you could cover your kid in it. It’ll keep the touchy feely people away. It takes commitment to greet a child under those things.