Friendliness in an Unfriendly World

On a typical afternoon I often find myself pushing my son in his stroller as we buy our groceries, go to the bank, pick up our dry-cleaning and shop at the local stores on our busy street.  Sitting in his front row seat, meandering through the crowd, my three year old happily says “hello”, “hi” and occasionally “nice dog” to the many people passing by. Sadly, I have to report that few will reply, or say hello back or acknowledge his attempt at being friendly.

Just last week, as we walked into an elevator, my son joyfully said hello to the two adults already riding and neither one answered him back. He said it again then looked at me, confused, as they got off on the next floor without answering back.

Happy waving kidsOn a trip to the doctor’s office, we had to see the temporary physician on call. She walked into the room, robotically introduced herself and buried her face in his chart. Using the proper etiquette, I introduced my son, and then told him her name again, just so he felt safe and comfortable with a new person. Precociously and like any three year old, he ask how old are you?  Her reply, straight-faced and without an ounce of friendliness, was, “None of your business.”

It took a lot of willpower for me not to remark on her rudeness and obviously bizarre insecurities in front of a curious toddler. As a doctor, a professional someone trained to have compassion, her cold personality and mechanical social skills left me having to explain to my son why people don’t always want to say how old they are.

”I’m fourteen,” he falsely boasts to her, making his own attempt at soothing what he interpreted as her shyness. I don’t think she actually looked him straight in the eye the entire examination, and did nothing to reciprocate his gesture of friendliness.

Teaching your child values is a fundamental part of their entry and existence into society. Friendliness, compassion, empathy, and awareness of others rank as the key components to social behavior and social acceptance. Constantly we are teaching and reinforcing the proper behavior to our kids in all situations from the moment they move from babies to toddlers.  “Say please, ask nicely, be sure to share, look at a person when you speak to them.”  It is an absolute must for most families to instill these behaviors, and yet the adults in this busy world are not setting the example or being what they expect the children to be.

How do you explain to a child that an adult is ignoring them? What words do you use to say that for no real reason a person just doesn`t feel like being nice? It breaks my heart when I see the rejection in his eyes or the disappointment he feels when his bright hello doesn’t elicit a bright hello in return. Of course not all strangers shun his openness; a few do respond and actually take the time to speak with his darling and curious little nature. Unfortunately the ones who don’t answer stick in his mind, and he asks me why is that person mad, or why won`t they say hello?

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