I’m not worried about stranger danger. I hold more knowledge about predators and abusers in the big toe of my right foot (my better foot) than most people ever will know. That’s a good thing. We need people to know and share their knowledge…even of unpleasant things. But I mention this not because I want to talk about the myth of stranger danger but because I want to talk about the opposite: affection.
I never taught Elisabeth to blow a kiss or give a hug. Teaching my daughter to give affection never sat well with me. So I didn’t do it. But I have taught her to high-five. A high-five seemed like a grand idea. It’s even applicable in the adult world, unlike blowing kisses. Seriously, who blows kisses to people in real life?! Here’s why I like the high-five:
- It’s an invitation. An invitation that is open and warm (“I want to greet you!” or “let’s connect”) but one that can be refused. It’s a physical but unlike moving in for a hug (which can be seen as an intrusion) it’s an invitation.
- A high-five also puts everyone on the same power level. I can high-five LeBron James without feeling helpless. But if LeBron were to give me a hug, I’d immediately feel his physical strength and know I couldn’t match that…or remove myself, if I wanted too.
- It’s affectionate without being sexual. I can high-five the banker at Suntrust with whom I opened my Outside The Mom Box account and also my friend, Ellie. Elisabeth high-fives Jamie and Amelia at Monuts and her grandparents.
- It’s an equal opportunity greeting. Everyone can do it without judgment. Men, women, boys and girls. People who identify as gay, straight, bi. People of every color. People who speak different languages and practice different religions. Everyone and anyone can high-five.
I try to ask permission when I want to give a hug but I don’t always. Which is my bad because I know that unless you do ask permission to give a hug (and this concept seemed way too confusing for a toddler to get), a hug can be very uncomfortable for some receivers. It might feel like too much an invasion of personal space…for adults and kids. We’re all different so this makes sense. There are the cultural considerations, too, about hugging too. My husband isn’t from a “hugging” family nor are Germans huggers in general.
It seems like we need to do a better job helping kids say what is and isn’t okay related to their body. In my mind, a high-five is a nice way to help them practice this voice. Small or shaky, all voices matter. If we put them in a place where they must receive (ditto for asking them to give) affection, how are they supposed to learn that they can decline another uncomfortable, and perhaps dangerous, kind of touch? And just as bad, how would they know we would take them seriously if they did…if we don’t listen to their ‘no’ when it comes to “smaller” things like hair cuts or hugs?
Elisabeth like the high-five although the fine mechanics of it continue to be refined. She thrusts her little hand up in the air and often misses the target hand as it moves toward hers. Recently when she was asked by an aquaitenance of mine if she would give him a hug, I explained to him that we high-five. I told him a bit about why. I saw a lightbulb go on and he was perfectly wonderful with my explanation. (I realize this may be a harder conversation for those with a grandparent or family member who was raised to give hugs). I asked Elisabeth if she wanted to give him a high-five. Without hesitation, she raised her little hand up, palm open and smiled.