Ask AF: "Hands Off His Hair, Please"

An adoptive parent asks AF's expert for help with how to respond when strangers try to touch her son's hair.

Q: My son is African American. When we’re out, people frequently approach us, and want to touch his hair. Most seem to be well-meaning, but is this ever OK? What can I say?

A: First, I would step back and think about the scenario from the child’s point of view. It’s probably scary to have an adult come up and want to touch your hair. It’s an invasion of his privacy, so I would not allow that. We teach our children to be wary of strangers, to respect their bodies, and not to let strangers touch them, so why would you let a stranger touch their hair?

Your response will depend on how sassy you want to be, and also on how bold the person is. You might ask, “Is there a question I could answer for you?” or “Would you allow me to touch your child in this way?” or matter-of-factly state, “We don’t allow strangers to touch, and you are a stranger.” Sometimes people don’t even ask–you just see hands coming at you. If a hand is coming out of nowhere, I would definitely grab that hand and say, “What are you doing?”

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