“Grandma, I KNOW that what you want to do most in the world when you see me is embrace in a great big huge full-of-love hug.  You miss me and your love is all bundled up inside just waiting for that moment when you can hug me and you believe that I will feel the comfort of all the love you hold inside you.

But I haven’t seen you in OH-SO-LONG, and it may be a little overwhelming to me to have all that love at once.   The feelings I have building up inside me may be a bit of anxiety of seeing someone I haven’t seen in a while.  In my developing memory, even a joyful time with you a month ago is hard for me to connect with.  Even if I am excited in advance to see you, in the moment when I see you for REAL… Wow…  all sorts of emotions may be spinning in my head and heart that I just don’t know how to deal with.

If you felt anxious, would you want a stranger to hug you if you didn’t want it… no matter how much they love you?  It would be SOOO helpful if you could RESPECT me with the emotions I feel in the moment because I’m not really good at controlling them, or even pretending to.

You could help me learn by taking a moment to see how I am responding and be aware of my feelings, and helping me be aware of your feelings, and showing me how you can control your emotions too.

When I am hesitant to connect with you at first, I might be trying to hide my eyes (or more of me), because it is too much all at once.  This does not mean I’m SHY (please don’t call me that), it just means I am not ready YET, and I need a bit more space and time and playful gestures and interactions first.  I need to remember, or begin to believe, that it will be a joy for us to connect.

Grandma, in order to respect what you want as well,  I need to hear how you feel and what you want.  AND, although I might not be able to use words, I need you to “hear” how I feel and work to find out what I want too.  You might try it this way…

“I love you and I have missed you so much, and I really want to hug you.”  (Welcoming arms outstretched.  Pause and watch to see my response without moving closer.  I will come to you willingly if I am ready.  And you can wait a bit, but not too long.  It gets uncomfortable and full of pressure.)

“I can see you may not be ready to hug me yet.  I can wait until you are ready.   How about a HIGH FIVE?  Or maybe a WAVE?  

Be aware, my brain is busy processing all the information I am getting from my senses, and all the emotions I may be feeling.   It helps me get comfortable with you if I have a choice about how to say hello to you, especially if you playfully ask me.  “A wave and a smile, or a high-five with style?”   And it may seem that I take a long time to decide, but please remember that my young brain takes so much longer to process my choices.

Maybe before you come to visit, we can get to know each other a little bit with FaceTime on a phone, or with Skype on a computer.  Even if we have DONE that, it really is different for me to see you in person… You are so much bigger in real life, and I’m not used to touching you.

I may just stare at you, trying to remember if your face is familiar to me.   I know it sounds crazy, but an over eager face can be kind of creepy to a little child like me.  I might feel like you expect something from me, and I don’t understand this.  Does this happen to you too?

Maybe while I am staring, you could playfully hide your face behind your hands, then peek at me with a face full of love and joy.  Little bits at a time, you will become familiar to me again, and I am more likely to give you more options for interactions.

I might not be ready to be touched yet, so please respect my need to adjust slowly, and recognize my SMILE, and/or a WAVE as the best greeting I have for you at the moment, and be SO happy that I can muster that much courage.   I might even be willing to BLOW A KISS back if you send one my way.   Be aware that my face may not be ready to smile through my courage, and I might even look grumpy as I wave, and that’s okay too, so just ignore that part.  I am young yet and still learning to work through my emotions.

Or perhaps, if I feel comfortable with a bit of a touch, I’d really rather give you a playful HIGH-FIVE, or a FIST-BUMP like dad and I do together.   A hand shake is kind of formal, and not so normal for my age.  But I might like to playful wiggle my fingers in the air with yours.  Or maybe you’ve heard of a PINKY HUG?  Teach me to link our pinky fingers for the easiest and tiniest hugs ever.  And I might consider you the coolest Grandma ever.

Maybe, just maybe, after awhile, I can work up to a hug.  It could be a leg hug, or an arm hug.  I might like a get-down-on-my-level Hug, or a pick-me-up-and-shake-me Hug.

When I’m ready, you’ll know that the hug you get from me is from my heart and that I am fully comfortable sharing our love with each other.  Won’t that feel the best for you too?

Keep an open mind and heart for me… It may not even be this trip…  but, when I am ready, it will be the most heart-warming hug, and it will be worth the wait.

Ms Debbie’s note:  There are some excellent articles about children having choices when greeting relatives they do not see often.  One of the best articles is from 2017, which discusses the Girl Scout Organization Memo that brought to attention the need to recognize a girl’s choice to choose.  And that this choice for consent helps her gain the confidence she needs for setting boundaries and saying no to future encounters that may not be so well intentioned.  “How a Holiday Memo from the Girl Scouts on Hugging opened up a debate on consent for children and families.

But I have yet to see a plea, from a child’s perspective that helps a grandmother, grandfather, Aunt, Uncle, Cousin, or family friend see it from the perspective of the young child, male or female, with options for different greetings with and without touching.  When I brought up this topic in a Kindermusik class, one of the moms exclaimed “We need Grandma to hear this!”  Ah, yes!  So that is the inspiration for this dialogue.

In our Kindermusik Level 2 programs, we are learning to actively listen for knocking and doorbell sounds, making these sounds with our voices, and on drums and instruments.  AND, we are learning how to respond to people who come and visit, practicing our options on how to greet our friends and family. Of course, we have songs for that!  “Somebody’s knocking at my door”,  “Ding Dong Hear the Doorbell ringing” and  “Shake Hands, Everyone, Dum-a-lum-lum”  (This photo is of a Level 5 student learning to play the Doorbell song on the glockenspiel.)  Kindermusik aims to make it easy for families to help their children gain life skills as well as music skills, including daily interactions with others that promote respect and choices. 

All of these greetings are options that a child can be aware of, and perhaps will allow a better transition to choose if a loving relative wants a hug.  As the adult in the interaction, it is helpful if we verbally give only about 3 options for a young child to choose:  Hug, High-Five, or Wave?   Which options will be best for the child you have in mind?

Non-touching options:

  • Smile
  • Wave
  • Blow Kisses
  • Peek-a—Boo

Hand-touching options:

  • Shake hands
  • High-five
  • Fist bump
  • Wiggle fingers together
  • Pinky-hug

Hugging options:

  • Arm hug
  • Leg hug
  • Get-down-on-my-level Hug
  • Pick-me-up-and-shake-me Hug

I’m pretty sure we can all agree that no-one wants their cheeks pinched by an “aren’t-you-the-cutest”-squealing aunt, or a hefty slap on the back from an overly enthusiastic uncle.  If you know this about your relatives, help set the boundaries for your family in advance (even if you had to take it as a child), sharing other options with them that your child will feel comfortable with.  Will you do this in advance, or in the moment?

You may wonder why it is advised NOT to say “Oh, he’s just SHY” ?   Here it is, words matter.  When a child hears a word for a particular feeling, they make a connection.  The word SHY can become a LABEL, which may seem like a personality trait that a child may choose to hide behind, and may begin to believe, “that’s how I am and I can’t change that”.    When we say, “I can see you are unsure, and may not be ready yet.”, this recognizes that you see them in the moment along with their emotion, which is fluid.  This opens up the perspective they can be ready and make a different choice NOW, as well as different choices over time.  Indeed, your child might be a bit nervous and timid ALL THE TIME… which then may be under the label of SHY, but instead of a label, let’s give them options.  

A final note for observation is to be cautious and watchful as a parent if a child suddenly becomes MORE anxious about approaching a relative than they were before.  It may just be that their growing self-awareness is newly adjusting, or it could be something else.  It is incredibly hard to believe that anyone you know and love could choose to act in a way that would be innappropriate, but please consider this option if there is a sudden change of comfort level.  I, myself, was surprised by an innappropriate kiss by my grandmother’s second husband, and it was difficult for me to get close to him afterwards… even though it never happened again.  She did not understand my hesitation, and would have been devastated if she had known.  And there are too many other true stories out in the world I won’t even discuss here.  Children may feel uncomfortable talking about it, or simply not be able to, but be keen to watch for their unspoken feelings, and ask general questions at times you are both along and relaxed to see if there is an underlying reason for your child’s sudden change in comfort level.   Whether this ever happens or not, it is critical for children to know they have choices, and that their “voice” will be heard when they say “no”.

There is no right answer for every family or every child, except the need to be observant, and to be respectful for all people involved as you choose.  Help each other get to know what works best for each person in each interaction.  This includes the needs of elderly adults who have hearing aids (and are confused by too much noise) or tender hands from arthritis that needs a gentle touch.  Yes, it does take a bit more time, but in the long run,  RESPECT is a value, an attitude, and a skill that we are teaching our children now… that can help them for life.

If you can think of more options, or have a story to tell about greeting relatives, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below or on our Music Connections Facebook Page.

Kindermusik is the best way to make friends and give your children a new fun learning experience! It also teaches them etiquette, manners, sharing and how to get along with others. Great building blocks for the future..

Audrey O'Donnell

Mom to 2 delightful children that are likely to be initially timid in social situations.

Music for Celebrating Seasons

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9:30 –  Babies up to 20 months

10:30 – Mixed ages: 1 – 5 years

This could be your first Kindermusik experience to enjoy together, or…      This could become an anticipated monthly family ritual.