SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT: LETTING YOUR CHILD LEAD
Babies start to form social relationships from birth, those instincts to root, grasp and smile are all an attempt at bonding. We watch this grow with our children as they begin to interact and form relationships on their own, often once they are more mobile. You can’t help but smile and feel giddy as your little one crawls to another baby and touches their hand or face for the first time. Likewise, you may react with equal emotion when your child reaches out and hits or pulls the hair of another child for the first time! In Montessori, we tend to lean towards a ‘stand back and observe’ approach to children socializing. Let the children figure things out for themselves without unnecessary intervention or steering by parents or guardians. By respecting your child, you give them as much opportunity to join in and as much support as they need.
On a recent holiday to the beach, my daughter had a lot of time to socialize with many different children. She truly loves interacting with other children, and so I typically stand back and watch. Walking down the beach she would run up to other children and immediately pick up one of their sand toys and join in the fun digging and scooping. At times the other child would play alongside her and the two would dig and scoop together watching what the other child was doing and learning from one another. Other times, the child would cry out and take back his or her toy looking to their parents for assistance. During all of these exchanges, my daughter was learning how to socialize, she was learning how to read the reactions of others and to make a decision about what to do next. I love to stand back and watch in these moments. Watch how children figure things out. Will my daughter drop the toy and move on in search of another playmate? Will she try to take the toy again? The less I intervene the more she develops her ability to independently manage future social situations.
Our children can only develop themselves socially if we trust them and give them the opportunities and space to do so. While it can be challenging during these times with unpredictable social distancing measures when it is safe try to give your child an abundance of opportunities to socialize. As your child becomes more mobile and joins in socializing with others, try to decide how much you want to be involved when your child is playing with other children, how much you want to steer or mediate versus how comfortable you are allowing your child to figure things out on their own. When you feel your child does need some assistance in social situations, it is always helpful to model and narrate emotions as you do.
As noted in our previous blog regarding the 5 main areas of child development, if a difficult situation arises between your and another child, you can offer your assistance and guidance by modeling and narrating the situation. Most young toddlers don’t understand the concept of ownership and generally think: If I see a toy, it is mine. If I want a toy, it is mine. If I am playing with a toy, it is mine. If I was playing with a toy and put it down five minutes ago, it is still mine. Naturally, this can cause some issues when playing together with others. We can start by modeling for our child how to ask to use a toy that does not belong to us, and guiding our child to understand that sometimes other children will say ‘no’ when asked to use their toy and that this is okay. In Montessori, we respect and accept a child’s choice to take turns and play with others or not. A child shouldn’t be forced to share or take turns or be forced to play with another child. We understand that some toys may be too precious for our child to share, and we respect that our child may want to focus on his or her own play without interruption. We may encourage our child to take turns with another child and narrate how that peer feels when a toy is shared, but ultimately the decision to do so lies with the child.
In Montessori, we believe that it is during the period of life from birth to age six that children develop their personality, and so the quality of social development is most important during these first years of life. We truly value the experience of children leading their own learning including their social learning. By standing back and trusting our children to lead social interactions, we are giving them the opportunity to learn how to interact with others - how to read other’s actions and reactions, to try out different options in a single social situation, to observe the feelings and emotions of others, to make decisions. All invaluable lessons that will naturally prepare children for a healthy social life and teach them flexibility and acceptance. As parents, we must give our children space and time. The space they need to figure things out in a safe and supportive environment and the time to develop those skills on their own.