Inside: Do your children REFUSE to say hello? Even to friends and family? Discover a fun way to get them falling over themselves in their excitement to greet people, politely.
My husband invited a new colleague and his wife over for dinner recently. We all greeted each other warmly.
Except for my son who just stood there, head down.
My smile faded. I prodded him in the back but he flat-out refused to say hello. Then he fled to the sofa and hid behind his hands.
Why won’t our kids say hello?
Such a simple word but with so much power.
The power to make people feel …
- And like they belong
It also has the power to make me feel hot-headed, tense, and tetchy. Or the lack of it does.
I think it’s important to say hello. Don’t you?
The 4 types of children
- Those who say hello to EVERYONE – particularly people you’re trying to avoid
(and hug them like they’re never going to stop)
- Those who refuse to say hello to ANYONE, including friends and family
(and cling to the back of your legs as if their life depended on it)
- The kind who only say hello to COMPLETE STRANGERS (go figure!)
- And the perfect ones who know exactly when to say hello and how to say it:
- They smile
- Maintain eye contact
- And follow up with a warm hug, when appropriate
Which type are yours?
I don’t expect my son to hug anyone. In fact, we’ve made it clear he NEVER has to. His body. His choice.
But a simple “Hello” is polite, friendly, and non-negotiable in my book.
Tried-and-tested methods to teach good manners
There are two common approaches used to improve social skills: coaching and modelling.
The aim is to guide your child through each stage of the learning process.
This is how it went for us:
Before: “Please don’t forget to say hello to Norm and Deirdre when they come. It’ll make them feel welcome.”
During: “Say hello to Norm and Deirdre”, I muttered through gritted teeth.
After: “What have you got to say for yourself?” I growled.
Not my finest hour. Moving swiftly along …
Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.
Albert Bandura (1976) Social Learning Theory
I’m half English and grew up in England. Walk your dog along any footpath there and everyone says “Hello!” or “Good afternoon!” or “Glorious weather!” to anyone coming the other way.
You don’t expect anyone to stop. You’re simply acknowledging their existence. And it feels good.
It’s part of being English.
If you have a dog, you stop while they sniff each others’ bums (which is when discussions about the weather really come into their own). That’s their way of saying hello to each other.
I say hello. My husband says hello. Even dogs say hello.
But our son won’t.
What’s baffling is that he used to say it. The most common age for children NOT to say hello is between 3 and 5. He sailed through that stage.
So what was different back then?
At daycare, there was a greeting of the week hung outside the front door, along with a reminder to say it. It was the first thing the staff said when they arrived too.
They were coaching and modelling. But we do both of those things, so why doesn’t it work? What’s the missing ingredient?
At daycare, the weekly greeting was in a foreign language.
“Salaam!” my son would say.
“Salaam!” everyone else would respond, with smiles.
My son would SMILE back.
Within a week, the routine had become second nature, and he felt like he belonged.
In everyday life, he also happily greeted people. Occasionally he’d say “Salaam” or “Konnichiwa” or “Bonjour”, but nine times out of ten he said “Hello!”
How to recreate the situation now
With this book, you can travel from continent to continent and discover how children greet each other around the world. You’ll know many of the languages (and may even speak several). But others are spoken by no more than 100 people in the most remote communities.
My boy and I lay down side-by-side and pored over the pictures.
We wished we were kicking a ball on a beach with Joao, spotting zebras and giraffes on safari with Jelani, and catching our first waves in the surf with Ailani.
And the book has an extra dimension
You can download a free accompanying app to listen to over 100 different languages recorded by native speakers. Sound brings the book to life.
My son was in his element.
He pronounced “Waqaa” (hello in Yup’ik) right first time.
His confidence grew with each new phrase. He was even keen to try out the most difficult ones.
“Amh’te na” (hello in Wiznay) tripped off his tongue.
N.B. Words in the book are written using the Roman alphabet and simplified to help with pronunciation.
My tongue felt too big for my mouth. And I tripped over EVERY single syllable. Which my loving and supportive family found hilarious, of course.
Through the laughter, my son realized something important.
EVERYONE says hello. Everywhere. So he should too.
We’re finally getting somewhere.
Get up close and personal
I’m half English-half Sri Lankan and was particularly keen to share the other language of my ancestors – Sinhala. We practised the phrases in The Hello Atlas and talked about the country’s manners and customs.
The book doesn’t cover this, but young Sri Lankans also shake hands. We had a go. It’s harder than you think. More laughter!
Pro Tip: To help your kids perfect their handshake technique, get them to point their tummy button and their toes towards the other person.
Also, young or old, a “namaste” style greeting is always regarded as polite and friendly in Sri Lankan culture.
It even gives my son an excuse to hide behind his hands!
But you’ll be pleased to hear he says “Hello!” like a pro again, thanks to our new favourite book. And he makes eye contact better than I can!
Pro Tip: To help your children maintain eye contact, ask them to report back on the colour of the other person’s eyes. Works every time.
Fun activity to try at home
If your child needs a gentle push in the right direction (or you just want some family fun), organize your own ‘Greeting of the Week’.
Here’s a free printable sign to get you started. Click, print, and pick a word or phrase out of the book.
Why not begin with the Sinhala word for hello, like we did?
These days, our son rushes to the door when guests arrive. He’s keen to hear their attempts to say the greeting of the week.
The perfect gift
The Hello Atlas looks and feels (and sounds) rather special – a lovely present for:
- Adventurers, young and old
- Budding polyglots (Kids will adore this fancy-pants word for someone who speaks several languages.)
- Children who need a little encouragement to say “Hello”
- And EVERYONE else. Everywhere.
I write about parenting problems and the picture books we used to solve them.
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Let’s raise HAPPY literate humans!
Is there a form of Hello from your heritage you’d like to share with your children?