Imagine that some time in the last eighteen months to three years, you were whisked off to a new planet where most of the people who surround you are giants, upwards of five times your size. They speak a language you can increasingly understand, but struggle to fluently use yourself. Often, these giants get close to you without warning, trying to touch you or move you around. When you recoil, they say you're "shy." Yeah, freaking out when a strange "giant" tries to touch you is one of many signs that you're not shy, they're just being creepy.
If that hypothetical scenario would make you anxious, welcome to life as a toddler, particularly any time you go out in public. For most people, the definition of shy is, "being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people." For toddlers, the commonly accepted definition is apparently something closer to, "not totally accepting even the most brazen intrusions into their personal space," regardless of their actual disposition.
Now, most people out there are not trying to be creepy, and they're probably totally non-creepy in most of their daily interactions. Still, and for some reason, when faced with a cute, small person, people often forget the most basic of human interaction. This happens to my toddler multiple times a day, and when he shoots the person a withering side-eye (he get it from his mama) or flinches, they always respond with a steadfast, "Oh! I guess he's shy."
This really bugs me, not only because I hate to see my child feel uncomfortable, but because my partner and I are working really hard to teach him about consent and respecting others' boundaries, and it doesn't help at all when people repeatedly don't do the same and respect his. We can't expect our kids — especially our sons — to magically learn to recognize and respect verbal and nonverbal expressions of "No" when they start dating, if the whole world has taught them (essentially since birth) that people with smaller bodies have to just accept whatever people with bigger bodies want to do to them.
For the record, my son isn't shy in the slightest, though there's nothing wrong with being shy. Everyone's entitled to their comfort level, but my kiddo loves socializing and meeting new people. He loves to run up to the front of a room and help whomever looks like they're in charge, and he gets especially excited if we're some place with a podium or a microphone that he can use to "address" the crowd with random words, babbles, and coos. He'll even spontaneously go on little walks around a restaurant to shake hands with people he has decided to be friendly. Basically, he's going to be your president someday, so get on his good side now.
The following signs apply to my toddler, and most of the small children you encounter on a daily basis. You probably mean well, and I'm so glad you're trying to be friendly. However, if you're doing any of the following, your excitement to see a cute little person has overwhelmed your social sense a bit, and you're now careening toward "creepy" status. It's not too late, however; just back up and give the little person a chance to calm down and see that you mean well.
If My Kid Has Never Met You Before And You're Trying To Touch Him
If I think a passing stranger’s makeup is super cute, or that their arms look really nice in their shirt, I do not go up and pinch their rouged cheeks or grab their toned arm, because that would be really weird. It's also weird to do the same thing to a toddler you don't know. Regardless of their size, don't touch people you don't know unless you're saving their life, or they've indicated that it's OK.
If You Just Walked Up To My Kid And Your Face Is Within Arm's Distance Of His Face
A few months ago, my husband suggested he’d "return the favor" to a random dude at the store who got right in our son’s face and scared him. The guy looked at him as if he was nuts, but that's literally what he had just done to our kid.
If it would feel weird to you for a grown man you've never met to basically put his face on your face, don't put your face on a random toddler’s face. ‘Cause that's how it feels to them.
If He's Frowning Or Fussing And You're Still Trying To Touch Him Or Pick Him Up
"Waaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!" means "No," people. "Waaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!" means "No."
If You're Trying To Play With Him When He's Trying To Eat
As a general rule, don't bother any animal, human, canine, feline, or otherwise, when they're trying to eat. That's how bites happen. As a specific rule, do not mess with me or any of my genetically-linked people when we are trying to eat. We take "hangry" to new levels, so standing between us and meal is one of the fastest ways to end up on our “NOPE!” list. That's just not a good place to leave your name, folks.
If You Just Walked Up And You're Quizzing My Kid On Stuff
Though similarly cute and endearing, my toddler is not, in fact, a trained seal. So, no, he doesn't do tricks on command. Especially if he just met you; he's trying to figure out who you are and if you're friendly by trying to read both your body language and mine to judge if he should feel safe or not. So, naturally, his brain is preoccupied with that now.
Telling you what color he's wearing or what noise doggies make is no more a priority for him right then than telling a random person what phase of the moon cycle we're in would be for you.
If You Come Up From Behind My Kid And Try To Touch Or Move Him
You would freak the entire hell out if you were minding your own business, doing something that interested you, and then all of a sudden you were interrupted by someone multiple times your size touching or even physically carrying you elsewhere. He's not “shy” or a “mama’s boy” for not liking that, that's just a really creepy experience. Unless he's about to get hit by a car or something, give him a chance to see and react to you before you think about trying to touch him.
If You're Trying To Touch My Kid And I Can't See You
I'm my son's "secure base." So, if he's just met you (or you've just approached him even if he knows you) and he hasn't seen me acknowledge or react to you, he can't trust you yet. He partially relies on my reaction to decide whether it's OK to relax around you, or if he should be cautious.
If you're trying to play with his feet from behind me while I'm wearing him, or you're ducking down in front of his stroller to talk to him without saying anything to me, he's being standoffish because he hasn't seen me give a tacit "Yeah, they're OK!" signal, not because he's inherently that way.
If You Came Out Of Nowhere And Surprised My Kid
Peekaboo is one of my son's favorite games. If you've already made friends with him (and his threshold for considering someone a "friend" is super low, y'all. Basically, if you've both smiled at each other, you are his friend.) and you start doing some form of peekaboo, he will reward you with adorable giggles.
However, if you haven't made any eye contact with him, but then all of a sudden pop up behind or in front of him, he'll either scream or give you the stankest of stank-eyes, because that's scary. Remember: to him, you're a giant. If a giant just popped up in your face, waving their hands and grinning like a maniac, you'd call the police or something.
My Kid Literally Has His Hands Up Trying To Block Or Push You Away And You're Still Trying To Touch My Kid
For real: if it would be creepy on a Tinder date, it's creepy when you do it to a toddler. Ignoring another person's “Stop!” gestures is a creepy thing to do to another person, no matter how small that person is. (That's also a great way to get hit in the face, and that's no fun, so maybe don't do things that increase your likelihood of getting hit in the face.)
Basically If You're Doing Anything When You Just Met My Kid That Would Be Weird If I Did It To You
If I walked right up to you, touched your face, and started squealing gibberish at you, you'd probably freak out. You might look around for a security person, or at the very least, you'd be talking to your friends for days about this weird lady you met who just randomly started squealing at you and touching you.
That happens to my toddler dozens of times a week. Yes, he's super adorable, and yes, we appreciate your friendliness. But, like, chill TF out for a second. Take a breath, smile or make a silly face, and give us a chance to size you up from a distance before you swoop in with any attempts at affection.