How do you handle all the attention your cute little blonde kiddos receive and how do you teach them to appropriately and kindly respond?

Thanks for asking this, Jodie!

This question articulates with two different topics, in my mind: personal physical boundaries vs. cultural sensitivity and “stranger danger.” When people are interested in my kids, it’s usually harmless…there is often face-touching or hair-petting, so I gently tell the person that my kids don’t like that (I also taught my kids to say “no thank you” in Kreyol). Since people are eager to participate in American culture, I try to suggest a high five or a fist bump. Haitians can also be somewhat intrusive into my parenting (in my opinion), and that’s harder for me as a mom.

For example: we took a tour of a business where they make jewelry. They had different areas where they were assembling the different parts. There were probably ten different rooms, and in every room, someone said, “Your son’s shoes are on backwards.”

I know my son’s shoes are on backwards. He knows his shoes are on backwards. They’re Crocs, and they’re not that tight-fitting, so he likes them that way. It is not a battle I want to fight…so to these nice ladies, I just smiled and said, “He wants them like that.” They laughed. So I laughed, too.  And that’s okay: they don’t have to understand. In each room, I had my kids say “Bonjou,” which is polite.

Should I have made him switch? Maybe. Sometimes I do, if I don’t want the attention. But it’s ultimately his body–if it’s uncomfortable, he’s smart enough to fix it. And that’s a value I’ve tried to teach my kids: it’s your body. You don’t have to let anyone touch it. I’ve taught them what parts are private without using euphemisms. In my opinion, it is absolutely okay to politely correct someone who’s bothering you…at any age.

I don’t allow my kids to be held by people I don’t know (in any context). If this is happening, I just dramatically rush on over and say, “Oh, my little treasure! You found my treasure!” This makes people laugh and distracts them from the fact that I’m taking the kid away.

Taking pictures is harder. I can’t really prevent it, but it does bother me. The other day, I was out with my youngest getting a special snack in a restaurant, and I know there was a man taking video of us. She was facing away from the man, but she wanted to trade seats with me, so I said no. Then I stared at him, so he knew I realized what was happening. He stopped. Haitians I’m friends with know that it’s okay to take pictures of my kids as long as they don’t end up on social media.

When Jodie asked her question, I assumed she was thinking of her context (Indonesia) instead of mine, so I asked my friend Barb Dukes who served for many years there to weigh in. I’m going to go ahead and share her thoughts, because I think they are gold.

How well I remember my youngest son trying to deal with the cheek pinching and hair touching he received when we were in Indonesia. My kids were toe-heads when they were little. He was angry about all the attention. He’d smack at people who tried to pinch his cheeks. I really didn’t want him to hate Indonesians as a whole just because of that “improper-to-us-but-proper-to-them” behavior. I ended up intervening for him any time I could. If I was holding him and someone went to pinch his cheeks, I would say, “He doesn’t like to get pinched” and put my hand up to deflect them. People were very receptive – I never had anybody get upset. I might elaborate, depending on the person and the situation, explaining that strangers were scary to him or that he was tired of the attention. I always let the people know that as his mama, I was happy for their attention, but I wanted him to love all Indonesians, not be scared of them! 

I love her heart here–because I’m sure that’s what they want, too! They’re trying to be friendly, not offend. I want my kids to love Haitians and have close relationships–but all healthy relationships are based on honesty and trust. Go ahead and explain!

If you have a blonde daughter, the next time this will come up is when she gets older. It’s not so funny then. It wasn’t cheek pinching, it was cat calling. In this situation I took a firmer stance. First of all, she wasn’t allowed to be out in public without at least 2 other people – and I preferred that one of those people was a guy. If she went shopping, I went too. And I didn’t shop – I hovered around her. I gave looks to the guys who were contemplating mischief that said “You will only get to her through me.” I stayed right next to her. I laughed and talked and had a good time, but always with my eyes roaming around. If some guys made a rude cat call I responded to him. I wouldn’t let them get away with it, I called them out.

I think she’s really wise to take preventative steps and set some boundaries. And here’s where I want to talk about “stranger danger.” I don’t think it’s a helpful idea. Our kids are constantly meeting strangers, both here and in the U.S. while support raising. And frankly, very few of those people are a risk: 90% of kids are abused by someone they know. So instead, we’ve taught our kids about “tricky people”: kind adults who aren’t what they seem to be. “Tricky people will try to ask you for help to find their dog. But since when do grownups need help from kids? They shouldn’t. Tell them to find an adult to help them, and then go find your mom or another lady who looks like a mom (having kids with her is a clue).”

Do you have a family password? My kids get shuffled off on people more often here without family around to help…would they believe Mom had sent a stranger to pick them up if there was a problem? This happened to me once as a kid–my cat had been hit by a car and they were trying to save her. I sort of knew this lady, but I wasn’t sure, until she leaned down and whispered, “The password is peanut butter.” Suddenly, I remembered the system we’d set up, and I knew it was safe to jump in the car.

Yes, teach your kids to be kind, but also teach them to be aware of schemes. It’s downright Biblical.

You’ve got this, mamas.