What is the value of saying ‘hello’?

Recently, I listened to a news story about a young teen was bullied by his classmates. When his parents decided to enroll him in a new school, they were concerned that he would not know anyone. How would he make friends?

The fourteen-year-old came up with his solution: Each morning at the new school, he held the door for his classmates. He greeted each of them as they entered the building. Propping the door and saying “hello” was a risk for an awkward adolescent.

At first, the other students wondered what he was doing. Some returned his greeting or said “thank-you.” Others kept walking.

Over time, the students anticipated his greeting. When he wasn’t at the door, they wondered if he was sick. By his senior year, this awkward, the once bullied teen became the homecoming king.

This teen tapped into a need we all have.

We want to be acknowledged. We need to know that people see us. We want to know our presence matters.

Researchers looking at middle school student performance found that simply greeting a student by name as he or she entered the classroom, increased student on-task behavior.

Retail knows all about this need: think Wal-Mart greeter. Large corporations, like AT&T, determined that quickly-greeted customers are more likely to recommend their brand to others. And, while I believe that my local bank teller has gone too far when she asks me about my weekend plans or how my day is going, it is nice to be noticed.

In my childcare curriculum, PLAYbook, Hello is the first activity. Each morning, babies and young children are entering the classroom. When we greet children by saying their names and smiling broadly, we are sending clear messages of knowing and belonging. Even the youngest babies respond to hearing their names and the warmth of our voices.

‘Hello’ is also the first and everyday engagement of our most important partners: parents. But while saying hello to children seems natural, we may not always take the time to do the same with parents. In a busy classroom, it is easy to go about getting the baby or child settled without directly acknowledging the parent. We may even ask the parent questions about the child without warmly greeting the father.

Sometimes we are waiting for the parents to say, “hello.” We may want to avoid those parents who are having had bad mornings. Or, perhaps our insecurities take over when we know that some parents don’t respond to our greetings. The parents who are in a hurry or on their cell phones may make us feel unimportant.

Parent engagement is at the heart of quality childcare. But most teachers are trained to greet and interact with children, not adults. So, often childcare centers and schools rely on daily reports, conferences, newsletters, and websites as the tools for family engagement.

‘Hello’ is in the curriculum for the parents too, so we don’t miss out the power of relationships. We have the opportunity to make personal connections. We show parents that they are important to us. We demonstrate that we care about everyone in the family.

Reflect on your own experience. It feels good when your boss or coworker asks you how you are doing or inquires about something you need the previous evening. We all have a need to be acknowledged.

So tomorrow, follow the lead of retailers: a greeting within 10 feet and 10 seconds. Think of the experience of the teen, holding the door. Let parents know that they matter. These simple actions will help parents feel included and valued.

Each day, we have the opportunity to practice holding the door. We can acknowledge those who enter our lives. We can spread happiness by making it our job to be the greeter.

Bio: Dr. Terrie Rose is a leader in the field of early childhood development and emotional readiness. She is an author, speaker, trainer and an Ashoka Fellow, who has developed a childcare model and curriculum for infants and toddlers to ensure emotional readiness.