I recently wrote an article about helping children get along with their classmates. However, young children can also require help learning how to socialize with others. Sometimes children are genuinely introverts, and sometimes children just don’t know how to act in a given situation. In either cases, it becomes my job to help my young children learn how to socialize.
There are several key concepts when helping young children learn socialization skills.
First, the child needs to feel safe. This can be tricky to accomplish. I have found, though, that if I have children over to my house for the play date, my children feel much more comfortable and behave more socially. When we are visiting at another house, especially for the first time, then I normally spend most of the time seated on the floor with my child, interacting with the children more than the adults.
With one or two children, I’ve spent the first, second, and sometimes third visit to the same home with my child (sometimes children) sitting in my lap the entire time. But over time, they loosen up and begin to interact with the other children. Once the children feel comfortable, though, they enjoy themselves more.
This sometimes looks like the child sitting by him or herself and playing with toys. For some children, that’s a lot of progress. The child feels safe enough to interact with the environment independently. I have to remind myself to not push for further progress. This is process that takes time and patience. Play dates are for the children to learn how to play together and enjoy independent play – not really for moms to get together and exclusively socialize. The adult conversation is always a great part of a play date, don’t get me wrong. But if my child is struggling with interacting with the other children then I need to focus on the child’s needs and support the child in this learning process.
After the child feels safe, then it’s time to model acceptable behavior. Children like to do what their parents expect of them. The problem is that a lot of times children don’t know what their parents expect in certain situations. Before I go to a play date, I prepare my child. I talk about what my child can expect to happen at the play date, and what kind of behavior is expected. If I know my child struggles with a certain behavior –like sharing – I’ll talk about how we share with our friends and take turns. And, more importantly, if I know my child struggles with specific social behaviors, I’ll sit right there on the floor with the child until the child shows me that he or she has those behaviors figured out. It is part of my job, as a mom, to make sure my child acts safely around other children.
This is a process that again, takes time and patience. Some children take to socializing without a problem and some are extremely shy. But with time and attention, children will learn how to play well with others.