Helping kids develop confidence and compassion starts with a simple hello

Slan go foill — Gaelic for "health till later." As-salaam-alaykum — Arabic for "Peace be unto you." Live long and prosper — a Vulcan salute. Many years of happy days befall my gracious sovereign — Shakespeare for "Good morning, Dad" (at least in our household).

What is in a greeting? Quite a lot, I think. A salutation is an age-old tradition that conveys "Hello, I am here, I acknowledge your existence, I won't hurt you if you don't hurt me." Or, "for you I have joy and respect and I am so glad to see you." Or, "I trust you and am willing to be vulnerable before you, here is my hand to prove it."

Whether because of email, texting or dialling directly to one's personal phone number, I fear the art of salutation has lost some ground in our modern times. "'Sup." "Hey." "Huh?" "What?" These are some of the more typical greetings I observe in my practice these days. Lately I have been attempting to engage in a little role play with adolescents in my office. "OK, pretend you are going to pick up a friend at their house, and it is the first time you are meeting their dad. Here we go, you ring the bell... ding-dong — OK, what do you say?" The young person usually stares back at me blankly and after a pause, grunts, "Huh?"

"OK, pretend you are calling your friend Kyle's house, they actually have a home phone. What do you say when someone answers?" Adolescent: "Hey — Kyle home?"

In my experience, role playing with adolescents never really goes very well, except maybe at a drama camp. But I think it is important that we keep trying because the absence of these skills will likely be a barrier to success later in life, whether in getting a job, finding a life partner or getting out of a speeding ticket.

I must concede, this isn't an issue that we can entirely blame on our modern, digital lifestyles. Just this spring I was counseling some parents through their concern about their 9-year-old who they worry reads too much. They have to ask him not to read at the dinner table, in the car, during class and through the night. They worry reading may hinder his social development and lead to isolation. I would agree: Even something as nutritious as reading can at times get in the way of human connections, so we just have to remember to actively engage our kids in connection, with eye contact and all. I suggested they encourage daily "face time" where he puts down the book and just engages in human-to-human interaction, whether with his parents, siblings or friends. Such "face time," as opposed to screen or page time, is essential for learning how to interact with others, to interpret verbal and nonverbal cues, to learn to listen, to learn to communicate. And really, the most elemental "face time" is a salutation.

Maybe I am old fashioned and too hung up on manners and comportment? In my opinion, in a world that seems more and more prone to brusque truncation in communication, a sincere greeting goes a long way. Whether simply making eye contact and uttering, "Hello, this is Renphrough Speedmoore. Is Kyle home?" Or, perhaps with an extended hand and a smile, stating, "Mrs. Neslax? Nice to meet you. I am Ranson Crites. I am here for your daughter."

These are social skills our world still desperately needs. It's worth some work. At the very least, in an increasingly narcisisstic society, it may spread just a little bit of good will and a positive vibe — and maybe, if we're lucky, even some empathy and humility.

Matt Thompson is a pediatrician at the Kids Clinic in Spokane.

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