We were waiting for the elevator doors to open and a voice caught my attention.
“What’s YOUR name?”
A lady peered into my son’s stroller, with her face close to my son’s and waited a for an answer. My son sucked on his finger and looked uncertainly back at this stranger’s face. The lady tried again, louder.
“What’s YOUR name?”
Again, he didn’t answer. He’s not quite two and a half yet and it’s clearly taking awhile for him to process what’s happening. Plus, he’s only just started to learn how to answer this question for family, let alone someone he has never laid eyes on before.
The stranger tried again a third time, and when no reply came, she looked up and asked me. I answered her. Finally, the lift door opened and we piled in. My attention turned to our impending flight to visit interstate family.
Another strange interaction
As we walked down the aisle of the plane, my son was ahead of me. I followed, with 4-month-old bub strapped to me (praise the LORD for baby carriers!) hands full with our nappy bag and cabin bag.
My little boy was dwarfed by the hubbub of adults loading luggage into the cabin bins, shuffling into their seats, sitting back with earphones in and eyes closed. He also drew attention and enjoyed waving to the odd person. One lady reached out her hand and brushed his cheek. On we walked and reached our seat.
These two brief moments at the airport got me thinking about how we view and interact with children. What struck me most was the double standards that occur.
What if it happened to you?
Imagine you were sitting on a train or waiting for the elevator, minding your own business, and someone got up in your face, demanding to know your name. Are you obliged to answer? Why do they need to know your name?
Or you are getting onto a plane and someone touches your face as you pass them; it’s an unsolicited, uninvited touch. Would you not be uncomfortable?
I know you mean well but …
Now, I don’t want to be a crazy tiger mum and demand that no one can even look at or strike up a conversation with my children without my (or, more importantly, their!) express permission.
And I don’t doubt that these interactions come from a very good and loving intention of admiration, delight and joy in chatting to little ones.
… Please don’t cross the line
But I think it is possible to express these things without crossing personal boundaries, and while still respecting that the little one you are talking to is a person in their own right. They may amuse you or bring you delight but that doesn’t mean that they are for your consumption and enjoyment, and their own desires, personal space, and feelings don’t matter or are to be disregarded.
This is particularly important for Christians because we believe each human being is made in the image of God, worthy of respect and dignity.
Children deserve just as much respect and consideration as we give to other adults.
How can we show respect to children?
This can look a little different to how our culture has typically interacted with children.
While it’s all well and good to want to chat to a child, please be respectful in the way you ask for their attention and response. And remember – they’re still learning about having a conversation. Give them physical space. And give them time to respond, should they choose to do so!
Perhaps more importantly, while it’s all well and good to wish to stroke a child’s cheek or hug or kiss them, please don’t demand it of them or shame them for choosing not to give you a hug or kiss. Even if they are family. And especially if you are a stranger to them. Children have the right to say ‘no’, just as you have the right to refuse unwanted physical contact.
We teach children respect to respect others by the way we treat them
It’s amazing how so many things in life come back to that golden rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Jesus. Luke chapter 6 verse 31)
Let’s make sure we continue to uphold that standard when it comes to our interactions with the little ones in our lives, who constantly watch us and learn how to treat others the way that we treat them.
Sarah Urmston’s previous articles may be viewed http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sarah-urmston.html