Thursday, May 5, 2011

thoughts on "social skills"

When we told my mother-in-law that we were considering homeschooling our kids, the first thing she said was, "But how will they develop social skills?" I assured her that we were as concerned about social skills as the next family, and that our children would be involved in all kinds of team-building, friend-making activities.

We still plan to do that, when they're old enough, and I think it will be an enriching experience for them.

But I've found myself thinking more and more about those "social skills" lately.

It all started a few weeks ago when we visited a friend's house for dinner. There were 4 children there, including Lyndon, all in the 6 months-2 years age bracket, and he was intimidated. Shy. Afraid. He fell apart every time one of the other kids even came near him, and heaven forbid they touch him or take one of his toys. He did it again in Children's Ministry that week and has since shown an unwillingness to stand up to other children, even in small matters. If a slightly bigger child (which is everyone at this stage) climbs up the stairs to the slide while he's on them, not only will he move aside to let them through, but he will climb down the stairs and give up on the slide entirely. This bothers me.

Or, at least, it did. But I've had a dose of perspective lately.

Some of you know that I was planning on working at a day camp this summer, and Adrian was going to stay home with Lyndon. This plan has become increasingly complicated in the last few weeks, as Adrian has signed up for school system seminars, registered for the WorshipGod Conference and interviewed for a new job that starts in July. We were planning on shuffling Lyndon between his two grandmothers and the one year-old room at my job. I was nervous about it, but I kept telling myself, "It'll be good for his (say it with me) 'social skills'". I happily imagined him learning to play nicely with other kids and take a nap in a room full of children. But I also feared him having separation anxiety, refusing to nap and being so intimidated that he just sits in a corner while the other kids have fun. So, when Adrian said that he didn't want me to work this summer, part of me was greatly relieved.

And part of me was still worried about Lyndon's "social skills". Then I went to tell my boss my intentions, and my child turned into a different person. He was snuggly and shy in an endearing way around the adults, smiling at them over his shoulder and waving at just the right moments to elicit the "Awwww." Initially tense in the 2 year-old room that I visited, he quickly warmed up and started begging to be put down so he could join the fun. And I realized . . . it's not that big of a deal, this "social skills" thing.

Yes, if my 10 year-old has no idea how to make friends, then it will be a big deal. But if my 15 month-old can't handle a room full of screaming preschoolers yet, or be happy in the arms of a complete stranger less than 10 seconds after meeting her, well . . . not a big deal.

And I've been noticing . . . the more I take him places (the kinds of places I've been taking him since the beginning) and give him the chance to interact with other kids, and don't stress him out about it, the more comfortable he gets. Up on the playground equipment today, he was holding his own against four very large preschool and school-age children, including one two year-old girl who was hugging him and petting his hair. No crying. No fussing. I actually think he kind of enjoyed it.

The point is, these "social skills" everyone keeps talking about have to develop, just like any other skills. Most babies are friendly by nature and will smile at anyone; this does not mean they're able to make friends or play well with other children. Some kids have natural dispositions that make them more friendly, more willing to warm up to new situations and people. My kid does not have this disposition. But what I've learned is that despite all the hype, it's not that big of a deal right now. I'm not depriving my toddler by keeping him out of daycare, by missing the occasional play group, or by helping him adjust gradually to children's minstry. If he wants to cuddle on a bench with mommy instead of run and scream on the playground, that's fine. I will enjoy it while I can. The "social skills" will come in their own good time . . . before I know it, in fact.

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