Kernel Factsheet — Antecedent Kernel

Pleasant Greeting


  • Education
  • Workplace
  • Community
  • Other Neighborhood-level

Developmental Phases

  • Infancy and Toddlerhood
  • Prenatal
  • Early Childhood
  • Childhood
  • Early Adolescence
  • Adolescence



How It Works

Imagine going to a nice hotel or restaurant where no one greets you pleasantly. What would you think? Imagine meeting someone important in business or politics who fails to greet you and shake your hand. You would feel insulted; you might even think these influential people wanted to hurt you for some odd reason. Imagine walking down a street where you know no one and you had the feeling that everyone is treating you as a stranger. You wonder if these people might be hostile or want to hurt you. After all, you’ve heard all about the violence and public shootings, and you have heard stories about strangers.

Now imagine that you experience that every single day, every time you encounter anyone. It happens in most school settings for a variety of reasons. This is today’s psychological reality for children and for many adults who care for them.

It is a new development in American culture. In recent years many people have become concerned about touching children:

  • Have you heard the phrase, “stranger danger”?

  • Have you seen or heard stories on the news about child predators?

  • Have you seen the supermarket tabloids and the sensational TV news people report on the “shocking violations of children by so-called trusted people” such as scout leaders, preachers, priests and even child psychiatrists?

  • Have you heard or watched others or even yourself say, “Keep your hands to yourself” or “no touching”?

  • Have you pulled back from hugging or touching a child that needed affection?

You may have experienced all or most of these; we certainly have. The children in your care—and all across America—experience this every day.

But the movement to restrict touching children has undermined the kinds of warm human contacts children need to thrive.

One small step toward healing this problem and empowering children’s resiliency is instituting formalized daily verbal and physical greetings among adults and children. It is a simple gift. If you think about it, businesses and politics would grind to a halt if humans did not have formalized verbal and physical greetings each day. Why should our children be bereft of warm touch and greetings? In controlled experiments, handshakes communicate stable personality characteristics. Greetings serve a clear function of signaling reduced threat. Greetings also convey considerable information about safety and threat via facial cues, which can become very disordered among children and adults with high human-caused stress or experience of human-caused trauma.

In sum, schools that find ways—within whatever rules and constraints they operate under—to make every student feel warmly greeted when they arrive at school or to particular classroom are likely to have calmer, more cooperative students. And that can make for happier more effective staff members.

Performance and Impact

Affects social status, perceptions of safety or harm, behaviors of aggression, hostility or politeness Place: Home, school and other community settings. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7


  1. Edwards, K.A. & Johnston, R. (1977). Increasing greeting and farewell responses in high school students by a bus driver.. Education & Treatment of Children, 1(1), 9–18.  

  2. Ferguson, C.A. (1976). The structure and use of politeness formulas.. Language in Society, 5(2), 137–151.  

  3. Field, T. (1999). American adolescents touch each other less and are more aggressive toward their peers as compared with French adolescents.. Adolescence, 34(136), 753.  

  4. Fry, D.P. (1987). Differences between playfighting and serious fighting among Zapotec children.. Ethology and Sociobiology, 8(4), 285.  

  5. Howard, D.J. (1990). The influence of verbal responses to common greetings on compliance behavior: The foot-in-the-mouth effect.. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 20(14 Pt 2), 1185–1196.  

  6. La Greca, A.M. & Santogrossi, D.A. (1980). Social skills training with elementary school students: A behavioral group approach.. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 48(2), 220.  

  7. Schloss, P.J., Schloss, C.N., & Harris, L. (1984). A multiple baseline analysis of an interpersonal skills training program for depressed youth.. Behavioral Disorders, 9(3), 182–188.