Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Hello Sunshine

Before taking my first job as Early Childhood Center Director, I underwent several interviews.  One school leader, whom I deeply respected, asked a question that threw me for a loop.  He said, "How do you say good morning to children?".  Huh?  How many ways are there to say "good morning"?  What did he really want to know?  

To prepare for this new position, I spent a day observing the center in action.  I was present when the children began arriving, and suddenly understood the meaning of that nebulous question.  Two boys walked through the door chatting, laughing, and gently pushing each other.  A teacher reprimanded them to stop that behavior and take their places on the floor, where they waited for their teachers to bring them to their classrooms. Ouch.  No one said "good morning" to those boys.  Their introduction to the new school day was a negative encounter with an impatient teacher.  They had to wait as a group, with nothing to do, before they could even enter their classrooms.  My heart sank.  

The way we greet children matters a lot and sets the tone for the rest of the day.  Every child deserves a warm, individual greeting at the classroom door.  Eye contact, a big smile and a brief, personal comment make our students feel welcome and special.  "Hi, Marcy, that's such a pretty bow in your hair.  Is it new?".  Marcy will feel noticed and appreciated.  Being the teacher's center of attention for a minute builds her confidence and energizes her to tackle the day's activities.  The teacher has established a personal connection that will motivate that student to participate and follow class rules.  That's a lot of value for a couple of minutes worth of pleasantries.

The same is true at home.  Whether welcoming our children at our door or at car pool, a smile and a hug show them how much they mean to us. That moment of focused attention is powerful, non-verbal language that says, "I love you, I missed you, you're important to me." .  Do your eyes light up when your child returns to you?  That's emotional gold to little egos.

Treating other people with respect and dignity is a basic human obligation.  Greeting each person we meet with a friendly smile is an expression of this obligation.  There is a famous verse in Ethics of Our Fathers, a Jewish text on ethical behavior and interpersonal relationships, that teaches: "Receive every person with a cheerful face".  A smile is an uplifting action that can profoundly impact another person.  I remember my surprise when I read something that a boy I hardly new wrote in my high school year book, "The smiles you gave me when you walked past me in the hall I won't forget".  I had no idea that I had made such an impression on him.  I learned that a smile is a gift.  It is an expression of love from one human being to another.  It says, "I see you. I recognize you.  We're connected by our humanity.".

Another benefit of greeting people warmly is that it helps us to accomplish our goals.  We all enjoy the company of positive, upbeat people, and are more willing to hear them out, more comfortable to work with them. Positive feelings give us energy, motivation, and confidence.  Smiles are contagious.  Even on the phone, people can relate to the tone of our voice.  When I recorded a voice greeting for my phone at the early childhood center, I always smiled  while I spoke.  I believed that smile could be heard.  It communicated non-verbally that my school was a warm, positive, welcoming place.

Quick smiles don't come naturally to all of us, but they are easy to learn.  If we consciously put a smile on our face each time we make eye contact, even with a stranger, it will eventually become a habit. Motor memory.  And a default smile will in turn help us and those around us feel more positively.  Spread some sunshine in our world.  Smile!


  1. Such a great reminder of a simple way to make a huge impact on those we love and even those we don’t. Thanks!

  2. I'm noticing a shift in the newest generation. The kids aren't being taught to greet people as they enter a room. I see it in my own grandchildren. I appreciate your blog. Thank you.

  3. Thank you Kathy for your very insightful comment. The simple act of greeting people can help children be more respectful and aware of other people. As well as showing good manners!