Learning to say hello

Learning to say hello
Does your child turn away or look down whenever someone says hi? How should you react? How can you help them learn to say hello?

The importance of learning to say hello

Saying hello is an important skill that allows us to connect with others in a positive way. All social interactions start with a simple greeting.

To properly greet someone, children should make eye contact and say hello. Smiling, winking, shaking hands, and waving are also good ways for young children to say hello, especially if they’re rather shy. Knowing how to greet others will come in handy when they want to join in on group games.

What’s more, it will help them develop other more complex social skills, like waiting their turn, sharing, listening, and negotiating. Even though greeting others can be challenging, it’s important to slowly get children used to saying hello, whether it’s through words or gestures.

What to expect by age

Babies first connect with their loved ones through eye contact. Soon they begin to smile. At around 10 to 12 months, they can wave goodbye and blow kisses.

As they start talking, they begin to say “hi” and “bye”. Once your child is around 4 years old, you can explain that saying hello is an important sign of politeness: “We’re going to visit Aunt Hélène. She likes when you say hi to her.”

How to teach your child to say hello

What you say and do has a big effect on your child’s behaviour.
  • Teach by example. When a family member gets home, say hello and invite your child to do the same. Take the time to explain the interaction to your child: “Did you hear Émilie? She said hi. Would you like to say hi, too?” This is a good way to demonstrate the importance of greeting others. Plus, your child will be encouraged to mimic your behaviour.
  • Praise your child when they say hello. You can also point out how others react: “Your teacher smiled and winked when you greeted her!”
  • Create opportunities for your child to practise. For instance, you can say, “Let’s go ask your brother if he wants to play with you.” Once your child is 3 or 4, you can also act out make-believe scenarios that involve greeting someone. For example, you can pretend that you’re at the park: “Look, another kid is playing in the sandbox. What should you say to them?” Or, pretend you’re going to the market: “The fruit seller we see every week is saying hi! Do you want to say something back?”
  • Play make-believe. For instance, you could pretend to be a shopkeeper, like a florist, while your child plays the customer. When they enter your store to buy flowers, they can practise saying hello. Your make-believe scenario can be anywhere: a movie theatre, a grocery store, a hair salon, a zoo, an amusement park, etc. Pick a place that suits your child’s interests.
Your child has the right to refuse a hug, a kiss, or any other form of physical contact that makes them uncomfortable.
  • Don’t force your child to say hello if they’re shy. It’s important to respect your child’s limits and temperament. Instead of reacting negatively when they refuse to greet someone, praise them when they do. That way, they’ll understand what’s expected of them.
  • Be patient. Learning social skills takes time and practice. If you sense that your child is uncomfortable in certain situations, ask them about it. Try to understand why they’re struggling and help them put their feelings into words. You can also work together to find alternative ways to say hello that they’re more comfortable with.

Things to keep in mind

  • Saying hello is a way to positively connect with others.
  • What you say and do has a big effect on your child’s behaviour.
  • Instead of saying hello, a child can greet someone with a smile, a wink, a wave, or a handshake.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: January 2021


Photo: Élisa Moar


Sources and references

  • Cooper, John. Getting on with Others: How to Teach Your Children Essential Social Skills. Finch Publishing, 2006, 224 pp.

For kids:

  • Aubrun, Claudine, and Nelly Blumenthal. Henri ne veut pas dire bonjour. Paris, Éditions Hatier, 2019, 16 pp. (ages 2 and up)
  • Ousatschev, Andreï, and Pierre Thomé. Bonjour, merci, et au revoir! Namur, Éditions Nord-Sud, 2008, 24 pp. (ages 3 and up)
  • Manceau, Édouard. Le petit mot magique. Toulouse, Éditions Milan, “Capucine la souris” collection, 2007. (ages 1 and up)