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Dear Ali,
What is your take on making eye contact and expecting children to say hello and goodbye to people who come into your home? What if you constantly say something to your child but it’s still not happening. Do you remind them in from of the people visiting or do you wait and talk about it after they have left?

As a child, I was made to hug and kiss everyone in the room “goodnight” when I went to bed. I hated it. It was my body, and I was being told what I had to do with it. When I raised my kids, I told them they needed to wave, or say “goodnight” but they didn’t have to give ANYONE a hug or kiss that they didn’t WANT to hug or kiss. It was their body – their choice.

I know a child who is too shy to say hello and goodbye most of the time. Her parents don’t ask her to. Instead, they ask if she would like to say hello/goodbye. If she says no, the parent says hello/goodbye to the person. She will learn to do it, and they trust that.

Kids do need to learn appropriate social behavior. Mostly they do this by watching. If you model the behavior, they will usually do what you do. Good and bad. But, never force them or reprimand them in front of others. Never shame them. Your goal as a parent is to create a relationship with your child through mutual respect and connection, not embarrassment, humiliation, or fear.

Take your child aside privately, and explain to them why we say hello. Why we look into someone’s eyes. If you know someone is coming over, talk to your child in advance. “When Bob leaves, we are going to say ‘goodbye’.” Or, “let’s make it a game and see who can say hello to Bob first. Think you might win?” I would also remind them before seeing friends that eye contact is an important part of communication.

You can also practice giving (and purposefully NOT giving) eye contact at home, and other comfortable situations, in easy ways – when asking about breakfast or when planning what to wear, for example. Give this practice some time and space to become comfortable and easy. Do this playfully, calling attention to learning a new skill. Remind them that these new skills take time, that they will master them, and that it’s okay if you need to remind them.

When you catch someone saying hello to your child, take that teachable moment to ask them how it felt to be seen – to be recognized. Looking into someone’s eyes can feel scary and intimidating. That can be pretty intense. But a smile and a wave is nice. Or, how about a high-five?

Honestly, sometimes kids refuse to say goodbye simply because they don’t want the visit to end.

Trust that they will learn to do it. Let them be ready in their own time.

“Your goal as a parent is to create a relationship with your child through mutual respect and connection, not embarrassment, humiliation, or fear.”

Oh Ali,
My eldest child wants to help in the kitchen and willingly does household chores, etc. My youngest is pretty much the exact opposite. He doesn’t want to be a part of cooking meals, refuses to set the table, and he’s most often not willing to help out. My love language and teaching style is more often than not, doing things side by side. I understand this may not be so for my little one. He definitely needs space- something true of him from infancy. I understand it is my job as mum to try and understand him more than expect him to understand me. I’m having such a hard time engaging with him. Especially when the things he wants to engage with me on are not in my realm of interests. How many times can we talk about the Charizard Pokemon card?

“Make it all a game. You can give him a list of age-appropriate ways to help and let HIM choose what chores he wants to do.”

How lucky you are that your oldest is so helpful! Enjoy that as long as you can!

My challenge here is that I don’t know how old he is, or if there are any sensory issues. So I will try to answer your question as best I can.

I love that you have the awareness that your job is to understand your little ones, and not the other way around. I’m so happy to hear you are familiar with love languages, and that you are applying it to your relationship with your child. This will help! While you know yours (quality time and acts of service), you don’t mention your little one’s love language. Once you figure his out, it will be easier to know how to communicate with him. Also, aside from Pokemon, what does he enjoy?

If he likes basketball, have him throw the toys into a basket, or the dirty laundry into the hamper, or the washing machine. Ask him to sweep the floor like Charizard would. Have him load the dishwasher as Pikachu. If he has a ton of energy have him bounce/hop/skip to the next chore. Make it all a game. You can give him a list of age-appropriate ways to help and let HIM choose what chores he wants to do. Make sure to give lots of love and praise for his efforts great and small! If he feels like you appreciate his work, he will want to help out more.

More often than not, boys have an easier time taking things in peripherally. If you want to have an important conversation with your son (or most any boy of any age), try doing it sitting side-by-side, rather than face-to-face.

You may just have to talk about the Charizard Pokemon card a hundred more times. That’s his thing right now and it’s a way to engage with him. But it won’t be forever, I promise. My daughter loved Barbies. Sometimes it felt like we’d be playing with Barbies forever, but we didn’t.

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