Touchy Feely Feelings

This post about Greece isn’t about ruins or gorgeous things we saw. We experienced some stuff on the trip that I need to talk about and just leave out here. Mainly… how do you teach a four-year-old what’s okay in terms of their body? When certain touching is okay, when it’s not okay…

This is the conundrum Dave and I faced with Sadie when we were in Greece.

I don’t know what it was about her but people could not get enough of her. Was it the blonde hair? How cute she is? (I know I’m biased but still.) Wherever we went people would comment about her and call her “Princess.” “Oh, look at the little Princess.” And they would touch her.

tumblr_m8gpbgpY7B1qkzymhI don’t mean touch her inappropriately as in something that would get a person arrested but like a pat on the head, or a touch on the shoulder. She fell down some steps once and a woman tried to comfort her and was rubbing her back (I was right there.) I finally had to pick Sadie up and walk away because Sadie was giving me the side eye like, “why is this woman touching me mom?” And in one gelato shop the woman proprietor patted Sadie on the behind as we left. She did it in a way a loving grandmother would pat her grandchild on the behind and she was enamored with Sadie the entire time we were there. As we were leaving Sadie goes, “That woman just touched my butt.”

Dave and I kind of looked at each other over her head both with the same look on our faces. “What do we do?” was the silent question we were asking each other through concerned looks. We finally uttered some form of a statement about how normally it wasn’t okay for a stranger to touch you but sometimes it’s okay in different countries… and then we just kind of let it fizzle out.

How do you handle that? I mean first of all she’s four. Second I don’t want my child offending someone from a different culture or country, but I also want her to understand that she doesn’t have to do anything she’s uncomfortable with and it certainly isn’t okay 99.9% of the time for a person she doesn’t know to touch her, butt or back or wherever.

Obviously these interactions were nothing but innocent and Dave and I were right there but it certainly got us thinking. What’s the age when you start to explain about other people and touching? Like, sometimes Sadie is a crabby-patty in the morning at daycare and her best friend wants to hug her and she doesn’t want it. There are times when I tell Sadie she doesn’t have to and her teacher backs me up but other times I just tell Sadie not to be mean to her friend. Argh.

Sorry that was a lot of word vomit but I hope other parents and just people in general understand where I’m coming from.


*I also want to clarify that we were met with nothing but nice, helpful people while in Greece and it’s not like we were personally affronted by any action we encountered but when dealing with a young child and their impressions at such a young age it’s hard to ride that fine line between what’s okay normally and what exceptions are.


  1. I’m not a parent, so I have no business giving advice, but I think just explaining to her that you were visiting a foreign country and that there are other social norms (like most southern European cultures are much more physical in their daily interactions (hugging, kissing, etc.)) will be enough.

    I think kids can take that and just take it for what it is. Of course, you don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable and she should say “no” if she doesn’t want to be hugged, petted, etc., at the same time they should understand that it usually just is a sign of affection.

    • I think because maybe we didn’t expect it towards her that we really didn’t plan on how we’d handle it. Like, I know to expect a double cheek kiss or maybe even a forward hug in some other countries, but I didn’t think about it affecting Sadie, ya know?

  2. I’ve noticed that it’s not just an international thing (like having NO personal space in Asia LOL) but even regional in the U.S. I’ve found that people in the South are more warm/hugging people for exactly, whereas in France hugging is considered more intimate than cheek kissing. It’s so subjective based on where you are!

    As a kid, we lived in Germany, Korea, and the U.S. The way my parents handled it was to basically tell us around Sadie’s age, using a Teddy Bear, what good touch and bad touch was and that if any adult does bad touch then Mommy/Daddy need to know. You can demonstrate hugs, even cheek kisses vs. lip kisses, etc. And that at any time, I could pull away and say thanks but no thanks.

    We also had a secret codename and handshake individual to each of us kids that an adult picking us up would have to know if they were not our parents. So even if we knew the adult, if they didn’t know both the codename and handshake, I would not go with them.
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    • Sadie is pretty good at saying “don’t touch me” when she doesn’t want someone too and I think we need to start with good touch/bad touch with her.

      Her daycare is really strict about who picks her up if its not Dave or I. We have a pre-set list of people who are allowed to pick her up and if its someone not on the list we need to alert the school first. After she’s out of that daycare we’ll have to come up with some new tactics – yours are great.

  3. Oh geez, that’s hard! Gaaaah.


  4. Hi! I stumbled across your blog and wanted to share some thoughts. I have two boys, one is 6.5 year old and my little guy is 3.5 year old. I am very big on talking about with them both about their bodies, consent and what rights they have regarding their own bodies. We started from birth. It may sound silly, but I subscribe to the idea that I never touch even a baby without at least voicing my intent and for older children wait for them to be able to voice their consent (if I ask for a hug or a high five). I work with students who have significant disabilities, and even though they may not be able to tell me their wishes, I certainly never touch them in any way without saying it first. It starts at home. In today’s world we need to be cognizant of telling children it is ok if they don’t want to hug grandma or grandpa or if they don’t like the way that Uncle Joey plays chase and tickle. Especially in our contemporary culture. As a mom of boys, it begins with me helping them understand that no one has the right to touch them and they don’t have the right to touch someone else. I use those very words. “You do not have the right….he does not have the right”….We talk about consent in a more general way as they are still young and can’t fully give “consent” in the way that we mean it as adults. That will come, and when it does they will feel comfortable talking about it with others. It may just be a pat on the back from a stranger, but unless you teach your daughter that she has the right to say politely (at first) “don’t touch me” then what happens when she is 18 and with that boy she really likes from high school? Don’t allow permissiveness to be mistaken for politeness. You can still be polite and firm. I would start the conversation with her now. I gathered a lot of my thoughts from this post here: I apologize in advance if this seems too forward or aggressive. I feel very strongly about this subject.

    • Please don’t apologize, I really appreciate the well thought out comment! At home we practice a lot of what you described – not forcing hugs to people, hell if Sadie doesn’t want to talk to someone I don’t make her – she gets shy and I don’t feel she has to push to talk to them. She’s already pretty good with “don’t touch me” when she doesn’t want it but I think the whole culture thing threw us off.

  5. I don’t have a great answer, but I know in Turkey that blonde children are considered very good luck. When my Dad spent time there for work and would shop in the markets for things to bring home (gold jewelry, rugs, leather goods) and would show photos of his family, the shop keepers would give him all sorts of extras for me and my brother, to bring them luck, because we were total towheads. I know Greece and Turkey are not the same country, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that “blonde children/good luck/hence a pat” is not just Turkey-specific.

    • Someone else brought that up to me too – apparently it’s also good luck in some Asian cultures? (I actually don’t know this to be fact, just what someone told me.)

      • In Asia it’s more of a novelty. When we lived in Korea, Dad’s red hair was unique. And then for me/Amy, we looked Korean but had lighter hair. Old ladies would touch our hair as we walked in the market. We didn’t mind because they usually gave us the equivalent of a Korean quarter LOL
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  6. This is a huge problem for us right here in the good old USA. Just the other night in china town while browsing the store the ladies that worked there were all touching Jackson. Rubbing his head rubbing his arms, I was offended and took him outside to wait for everyone else to be finished. I know it’s a cultural thing but he was not wanting to be touched and rubbed by strangers.

    • I feel like you and I were just talking about this the other weekend and how it happens to Jackson too. That’s it, I’m dying Sadie’s hair brown! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Sounds like a cultural thing for sure, It also sounds like she knows how to tell people she doesn’t want to be touched, so that’s a great start!

  8. Tough topic! It’s difficult when there are different societal norms in a new country. It’s such a hard topic for a 4 year old to grasp, but I think that it would have been okay for you to tell her that she can say no if she is not okay with the touching from strangers.

    I like this book (which I found on Amazon) for kids: Your Body Belongs to You by Cornelia Maude Spelman. It empowers kids to say no when they don’t want to be touched. We read it every so often with Izzy.
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  9. Oy that is a bit tricky. I’ve thought about those conversations even though we have years for them to come. However, I’ve noticed random people have touched Riley or patted his head and I know some people do it without thinking about it, but I also don’t want him to get used to strangers touching him if he doesn’t like it. Seriously, where is the guidebook for these things? Ha.

    • I feel like people think its just okay to touch babies/young children. Hell people think its okay to touch a pregnant woman they don’t know! No thank you! Where are boundaries? I mean, we shouldn’t all live in glass cases or bubbles but just general etiquette seems to lacking in some cases. In others like in Greece, I’m sure it’s just cultural differences but makes you wonder.


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