“Please Don’t Touch the Babies”

I am in full agreement with kids in their thinking that, at times, adults can be complete imbeciles. How else do you explain their lack of respect for personal space when it comes to little ones? Allow me to illustrate. Last weekend, my two-year-old was having trouble being dropped off in a class with complete strangers. Sounds pretty understandable to me, and even though she IS painfully shy, I’m sure that she is not the only two-year-old to ever experience these feelings. Given this, how does the teacher choose to “help” a toddler who is crying by the door? By picking her up and restraining her of course! Sound crazy to you?! Just put yourself in the child’s shoes. Kind of blows your mind, huh? When hearing from down the hall that my child’s sobs were becoming uncontrollable and desperate, I entered the situation. When the teacher recounted the intervention she chose to use, one thought entered my mind… “So to help a toddler who is having trouble being left alone with strangers, you thought the best remedy was to force yourself upon her and restrain her?”

I wish I could say that the above account is an out-of-the-ordinary event, but sadly, it is not. When telling our dear friend Jaymee this story, she told me that this is not an uncommon practice among adults in dealing with children who are not their own. She then gave me examples of similar instances happening with children whom we both knew. This to me is sickening. I can only think that this type of intervention is only used by naïve adults. Let me back up here. Allow me to qualify my statements. I have been trained in behavioral therapy and have worked with children and adolescents with violent behaviors and behavioral disabilities. Some of my training in this capacity was in how to use “therapeutic holds”. Given the severity of this type of intervention, such holds are only to be used when these individuals’ behaviors were escalated to the point that they were a threat to their personal safety or to the safety of others. This said, I will share that in all of my different interactions with individuals with actual behavioral disabilities that lead to potential violence, never once did I ever have to restrain any individual. So I am not just using common sense but also professional training and experience in stating my opinion that certain adults only force themselves on small children to restrain them because of their enormous size advantage and because they think they can.

Now I realize that my example of restraining small children is a bit extreme, but there are a number of other ways a child’s personal space can be violated, often without adult regard. When sharing what this blog post was about, a friend of mine was quickly able to give me an example of a very recent encounter. When she and her daughter were at her husband’s softball game her husband introduced them to his former coach. After talking with them for just a few short minutes, the former coach looked at my friend’s small daughter, held out his arms and said “come here”. After the child went over to him, he took her up in his arms and flipped her in the air before returning her to the ground.

Okay. So this sounds like it might be fun, but what about the child in the situation? She was called over to the outstretched arms of a strange man only to be, within an instant, completely reliant on him for her personal safety. Still not with me on why this is not okay? Answer me this, who was the interaction benefitting? Certainly not the child who, in more ways than one, was left to feel completely vulnerable during the whole interaction. When recounting the event, the child’s mom told me that she was worried that stepping in might seem “rude”. This is not the first time the fear of rudeness has contrasted with a parent’s need to protect small children.

By now we all know that our dear friend Stephanie has about a thousand kids. During the last Father’s Day weekend, she and her family met up with her husband’s extended family for a swim outing. While Stephanie was in the water with some of her children, her mother-in-law, who was holding Stephanie’s baby was approached by a complete stranger who asked to hold Stephanie’s baby. When the mother-in-law declined, the stranger had the audacity to tell the mother-in-law that she was being rude. Even after the mother-in-law explained her reasoning that the baby did not know the individual this person still insisted that she was being unreasonable.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been put into awkward situations wherein adults have asked my children to either hug them or sit on their laps. More often than not, these requests are made by adults who hardly even know my children. Understandably, my children usually respond to these requests with either a blank stare by them shying away from the individual or by them hiding behind my legs. To my astonishment, many of these seemingly level-headed adults will persist. It is at this point during these instances when I have to make a conscious decision to risk sounding rude in the interest of ensuring my children’s sense of security. In these situations I make statements (directed both to my children and to the adult) like “it’s enough just to wave or say a friendly “hello’”. I am sure to never tell the child something to the effect of “maybe when you know him/her a little better”. This sends a false message to the child and to the adult that the child is somehow obligated to show this adult physical affection upon request.

Note: Now I do realize that each year I am guilty of asking my children to sit on Santa’s lap but that’s an entirely different animal.

It is not my intention to have you upset by this post. The point I am trying to make here is that children are people too and as such they have a right to have their personal space respected just as much as any adult. In fact, children’s personal space should be handled even more delicately because of their lack of knowledge of the world and their simultaneous need for a sense of security.

I kid you not, while weeding through the endless examples I could have used for this post, another example presented itself to me. I was going through my blog notes at a local gym when I saw an adult instructor from the gym handing out popsicles to her students. She then handed a popsicle to one of the student’s younger siblings. After he took the popsicle, the instructor asked him to give her a hug. Is this not contrary to everything we teach small children about personal safety? And why was it necessary for her to get a hug from him? I certainly don’t ask for a hug every time I give an adult something, especially when they’re virtual strangers.

I wish that I could say that adults’ lack of respect for children only pertains to small children, but sadly it does not. Whether it has been with my own biological children or with my foster children, it has never ceased to amaze me how little respect certain adults have for a baby’s personal space. It never fails that when I have an infant in my arms, some adult somewhere will try to make it their business to interrupt whatever it is I am doing and insist on either trying to take my baby from my arms or put their hands either on the baby’s face, hands or even directly into the baby’s mouth. Gross, I know! One need only visit the “Clean Hands Coalition” (yes, it does exist) at www.cleanhandscoalition.org or www.cdc.gov to learn about all the health risks carried on hands every day to be alarmed at the thought of a stranger’s hands near a baby’s face, hands or mouth. If you think I’m overreacting, let me ask you this, would YOU let strangers put their hands in your mouth? Enough said.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not completely insensitive. I know that people like babies. But when should it ever be okay to completely interrupt someone else’s day only to risk spreading germs to and violating the personal space of a defenseless individual? I must say, in writing this I do feel like a bit of a jerk, and yes. A germaphobe as well. But then I am reminded of all the parents who share much the same sentiment as me on this issue. Back to Stephanie and her thousand kids. As many of you know, Stephanie is the mother of a set of twins. As with all things multiple, the personal space problem is multiplied when multiples are involved. Stephanie put it this way… “It’s like, when you have multiples, people think that they’re (the multiples) there for public display”. Stephanie can recount the many times complete strangers have stopped both herself and her husband from across the parking lot, despite whatever hurry they’re in to say “wait! Wait!! I have to see your babies”. Are you serious? Since when is THAT okay? When discussing this problem with me, Stephanie went on to say that strangers will often pull back their pram covers without even asking permission. In fact, the problem got so severe with her sister-in-law who also has a set of multiples that she had to post a sign on the outside of her stroller stating “please don’t touch the babies”. I was going to title this post “kids are people too” but upon hearing this story, I knew I had to make the switch to quote this statement.

To you this post may just sound like the ranting of a paranoid parent. Okay. I’ll take that. But if that were true, why then would so many parents have so many examples readily available? Alright, now that I have your blood boiling, allow me this bit of advice… The next time you find yourself wanting to violate a child’s personal space, please resist. And always remind yourself that, when it comes to personal space and gestures of affection if you wouldn’t ask it of a grown adult, why then would you ask it of a child? After all, children are people too, just a little more fragile.

Note: Does my above post strike a chord with you? Maybe you have your own story to share. Or maybe you disagree with me completely. Either way, I want to hear it. Feel free to post a comment below.

Categories: Family, Multiples, Parenting, Types of Therapy, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on ““Please Don’t Touch the Babies”

  1. This is very interesting to me. I have several friends raising their kids in other countries and I’m wondering if some of this mindset is cultural. In several countries it is the absolute norm for strangers in restaurants and on buses to reach out and take your child. Not to force themselves on them, but because their societies are so child-welcoming that it is considered rude to not love on others’ children. In one country, if you get on a crowded bus with a child and there are no open seats, the social norm is to reach up and hold the child while the parent stands next to them. Cultural norm. One child I know was very shy here in America and then moved to Brazil when he was 2. His parents were very worried about him because Brazilian culture is very social and in-your-face when it comes to kids. To all of our shock – he flourished there. So I guess I’m just wondering how much of this is a Western or American issue?

    I see your points completely though. I’ve only been on the side of the church nursery helper or preschool teacher, etc…and while I’ve had parents push their child in my arms and run, whenever possible (if the door is shut and it’s safe for the child) I’ll let the child move freely, but all the while introducing myself, speaking soothing and calming words, etc… I will hold a child though, to offer reassurance and comfort to them if needed. I am hoping that is considered different than restraining a child.

    I can’t imagine touching a stranger’s child. I have been known to smile at many a child in the supermarket, but always try to pair it with a smile to the parent or a comment on how sweet/cute/etc… their little one is. Friends’ children are another story, they get lots of loving from me – but they know me and we have relationships. And if they’re not feeling it that day, I don’t force it…ever.

    • Bectoria

      Thanks, Abigail. From the traveling that I have done, I have seen some of what you are saying. Also, my children’s godmother is from Brazil and she and her mother bring much of their culture with them when interacting with my children. These matters taken into consideration, parents know what is best for their children within whichever culture they choose to raise them. I appreciate your observation and think that you are right that my opinion is definitely reflective of my country of origin.

      I understand what you are saying about your experiences in working with small children. (If I were in your position, I’d probably have a blog post about parents who ditch their distressed children in the place of the one we are discussing.) And yes, there is definitely a difference between restraining a child and trying to provide comfort. While I clearly don’t agree with restraining a child, I guess adults need to use common sense when deciding what type of approach they will take when comforting a child. Having had to comfort many children in a number of very sad and traumatic situations, I know that it has always been my personal conviction that I always try to meet the child where he or she is at as a means of meeting not my personal needs but the needs of the child. By your comments, it appears to me that you try to do just the same.

      I love your comments about your interactions with your friends children. We have some very dear friends who, much like yourself, allow children to warm up to them instead of forcing an uncomfortable relationship.

      You make some excellent points. Now if only we could replicate you…

  2. Renea

    While I totally understand the point you are trying to make, I think this is a bit overboard. I agree that some adults do have some issues with this. But it is my assumption that most people do mean well, and when a child is unresponsive to an adult, I think they back off. I have 4 small boys, who have NEVER met a stranger. This has often been a cause of worry for me, but I also think that it is a blessing. While they may or may not accept offers of affection from adults, at least I know that they are comfortable with people, and (it seems to me anyway) that we have taught them to believe in the overall good of people. I know that this brings up another entire issue (teaching the kids that there are bad people out there), but for now, I want them to know that all people deserve a chance.

    As for restraining a child, the person should be slapped. I agree with the above comment made about being a nursery/young child care provider. There is NEVER a reason to physically restrain a child. If the problem is that big, I think maybe the parents should be re-introduced to the situation. I understand a clingy child may fuss when dropped off, but lets be honest, a child who continues to be upset and refuses to be comforted, probably needs to be with a parent or familiar adult. It makes me sad that the first response to your child was a harsh one, instead of a loving one!

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