I have had countless numbers of complete strangers wanting to touch my babies (now children). Touching their faces, playing with their hair, asking for a hug or even trying to lift them out of the stroller for a photo. At the start I was shocked, I didn’t know what to do. It was obviously well meaning, but it didn’t feel right. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me, so why were they trying to touch my baby? As the kids got older it became frustrating. They don’t like being touched on the head or having their face grabbed and I didn’t like it either. In the end the standard line for my husband and I became “Stop! Please don’t touch my baby!”. This is not met with many happy faces, but the kids prefer it and I am happy about that.
Here are 10 more reasons why I tell strangers to not touch my kids after they try to pinch their cheeks or swoop in for a well meaning hug.
- I don’t know if your hands are clean, you may have been sick, be sick, been around someone who is sick or have just picked your nose. I don’t want your germs on my baby, especially when they will inevitably put their hand in their mouth when you say goodbye.
- So you don’t think it isn’t a big deal for a child to put their hand in their mouth? If it is laden with germs it could be a week home for my child while sick, then her brother, then me and don’t forget my husband. That works out to be a few weeks of bad sleep and keeping ourselves at home. Not to mention the missed work for my husband, missed school for the kids and the cost and inconvenience of doctors visits.
- Touch is about personal space and should always be consensual. As a society we would never walk up to a cute stranger and start squeezing their face or playing with their hair. What makes it OK to do it to a baby? Because they can’t say go away?
- A baby’s immune system is still developing; some may not have the strength to fight a serious everyday infection such as rotavirus, flu or hand foot and mouth disease. All of which are common.
- We live in busy metropolitan city which is globally connected, serious infectious diseases such as rotavirus and tuberculosis are on the increase and can be life threatening, especially to young children with underdeveloped immune systems.
- Due to the life endangering anti-vaccination movement (see our thoughts here) highly contagious fatal illnesses such as measles and whooping cough (that were previously eliminated) are now rearing their ugly heads. One un-vaccinated person’s recent trip to Disney Land has been the cause of over 125 confirmed cases of the deadly measles virus in the United States. In the last 6 months there have been measles outbreaks in China, the United Kingdom and the United States due to un-vaccinated children.
- Kids need to bond and be social! However this doesn’t involve strangers touching them, especially when they look uncomfortable and are recoiling. It is surprising how some people persist in playing with a child’s hair or even touching a child’s face when the child looks miserable and uncomfortable.
- Look, smile, say hi to my child but please don’t touch. It is common courtesy to not touch a baby, child or person that you do not know.
- It isn’t about children building up their immunity being around other people. I consciously take my kids out of the house for a few hours every day whether it be to the park, indoor play areas or swimming.
- It is about inappropriate touch and teaching your child about it early in order to give them confidence to say no when they don’t want to be touched. It is also about teaching kids about consensual touch, if someone looks uncomfortable and says no, you respect it and STOP! Good habits start early. By teaching kids about inappropriate touch and stranger safety it will make it a habit and help them to say “NO” in any inappropriate situations in the future.
We started teaching my eldest child about stranger safety, appropriate touch and inappropriate touch at 2 years old. The basics we use for our young children (under 5 years) are;
- We don’t touch strangers and strangers don’t touch you. If anyone touches you and you don’t like it, say NO! in a big strong voice then tell mum, dad or a guardian.
- Everything under your swimsuit is private, just for you and no one else. Sometimes a health provider may have to look at your body for medical reasons but your mum/dad/guardian will always be there. We tell the health provider that our child is always allowed to say stop (by holding up their hand or saying STOP) if they feel uncomfortable or distressed. We also clearly explain to our kids why the health provider needs to finish the procedure, and what the purpose of it is.
- We never force our kids to be affectionate, even with grandparents, aunts or uncles. Their body is theirs and they can decide if they want to be affectionate or not. By doing this we are reinforcing that their body is their own, they can always say NO and have a right to, No should always be respected by adults AND other children. This includes rough play, if anyone ever says stop or I don’t like it! It must be respected and play must stop immediately.
- Our children know the anatomically correct names of all of their body parts, this prevents confusion with silly names that can be confusing to both adult and child, especially if they are concerned about something and need to talk about it.
Just the other day a well meaning lady grabbed my daughters face at the supermarket while she quickly walked past. My daughter looked at me and said “Mum! you said don’t let strangers touch you”. She was right, the lady caught me off guard and before I could say anything she was already half way down the aisle. It can be difficult to correct complete strangers, especially little old ladies. But as their parents or guardians we need to give our kids a strong consistent message on what is and isn’t OK. It isn’t OK to touch a stranger or for a stranger to touch you. It also isn’t OK for someone to keep touching you when you say STOP! By teaching consent and appropriate touch at an early age it is the start of stranger safety and protective behaviours for kids. With regular reinforcement by parents, these behaviours can be the start of good habits that can last a lifetime.
How do you feel about strangers touching your kids on the face or trying to take a photo? Do your kids like it?
Thank you to Jennifer Hor from JenLia2u for her input into this article.
Thanks also to Adam White (blimpboy) from Flickr for the great picture.