How to teach your kids to socialize…respectfully!

How to teach your kids to socialize…respectfully!

It’s difficult to write about parenting without coming across as overly judgemental.

There are so many different opinions and most claim that research is on their side.

I write this as a former Early Years Teacher and as a parent. I write it knowing how easy it is to misinterpret the hundreds of different ‘expert’ opinions that are out there.

So, here goes…

I’ve heard a lot of comments from parents who believe that their toddler is capable of looking after himself without observation. Thet say that they are letting them ‘practice their social skills independently’.

I don’t set out to judge other parents but anyone who has an opinion on something has to disagree with someone else. That’s the way opinions work so I’m sorry if my post seems blunt.

As a parent it can be exhausting when you’re out in public and you feel surrounded by parents who don’t watch their kids.

Here’s why toddlers need their parents to watch them… 

Toddlers are not develomentally ready to resolve conflict alone. 

I have received a few comments from parents who used the term ‘helicopter parent’ because I watch my child at playgroup rather than sit in a seperate room to drink tea. They thought that my child would never learn to deal with conflict if I didn’t let him practice his social skills alone in a variety of social situations.

The message that toddlers should be allowed to resolve their own conflicts has in my view been widely misinterpreted.

Child experts Janet Lansbury and Lisa Sunbury agree…

Nothing disappoints me more than hearing respectful parenting misinterpreted as abandoning children to fend for themselves in every social situation and behave however they wish – a false interpretation that, sadly, gives Magda Gerber’s approach a bad name. As much as I believe in offering children opportunities to develop social intelligence experientially and supporting them to explore and experiment with only minimal intervention, I also believe that kids need and deserve our help to behave within the bounds of social rules.

Lisa Sunbury

Teaching toddlers to socialise. Adults must guide their child through social interactions. #toddlerssocialising #socialskills
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Maria Montessori also advocated guiding children as they navigate social situations. She said that…

An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking; it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live.

However, allowing a small child to navigate a room full of other children without any supervision is irresponsible and inconsiderate.

It’s like entering your baby into a marathon before it’s even learnt to walk. Surely, you’d start with a fun run and build up?

As kids get older then yes they need to be given developmentally appropriate opportunities to practice problem solving alone…but for most children under 3 this is not developmentally appropriate.

The Gesell Institute  advocates allowing children to navigate situations themselves…

by the time most kids are four they have the vocabulary and maturity to work out disagreements with their peers by themselves.

But, it doesn’t state that children much younger should be capable of doing so without guidance. Infact everything I’ve read talks about having an adult or an expetienced older child as a bystander.

They also ALL insist that the bystander should step in just before/when things get physical or disrespectful…whatever the child’s age.

For an adult to step in to stop this then they need to be watching pretty carefully. We all miss the odd kick (we have to blink!) but proudly admitting that you don’t need to watch a 2 year old seems crazy to me.

Empathy is difficult for young children.

Toddlers are adorably self-centred. They are designed to focus on number one.

My one year old will cry if I cry and my three year old looks hurt when his baby brother has an accident. However, if a child grabs the toy he’s playing with and my son pushes him then I’m pretty sure that he’s not going to empathise with the other child!

They develop empathy because we model it to them, by showing them kindness and talking to them about emotions.

My eldest is now 3.5 years and he is pretty empathetic most of the time.

However, he is still young and therefore not hugely in control of his emotions. If he’s tired, ill or just having a bad day he won’t respond in the same way. I don’t expect him to.

Playgroups, Playgrounds and Soft Play areas aren’t ‘normal’ social environments.

A room full of kids the same age is not the place to allow a young toddler free reign.

Parents have refered to these areas as ‘safe’ to ‘practice’ the social skills they have modelled to them in the home.

I find that I’m modelling more when we’re out in public.

Playgroups and parties are totally different scenarios to being at home. They take a totally different set of skills (unless a child has 10 siblings very close in age!)

A small group, siblings, quiet play ground or play date would be a better place to allow social exploration.

Being surrounded by other toddlers their own age who’ve been let loose is kind of intimidating to most young kids.

Research has shown that groups of similar age children are much more likely to become aggressive and competitive too it’s quite normal for problems to arise.

Toddlers are quick to respond physically and shouldn’t be expected to be in control of their outbursts.

I prefer to be there to guide my children through their emotions and also to make sure that they don’t hurt themselves or anyone else.

Waiting for natural consequences isn’t ALWAYS appropriate.

Another often misinterpreted phrase…natural consequences.

A natural consequence is anything that happens naturally, with no adult interference.

Seems logical, until you start to think about situations that arise when young children are left to mingle unsupervised. Hair pulling, biting, throwing objects…what are the natural consequences?

There are times when natural consequences ARE NOT PRACTICAL:

  1. When natural consequences interfere with the rights of others. Adults cannot allow the natural consequences of allowing a child to throw rocks at another person. This is one reason why supervision is especially important with children under the age of four. The only way you can prevent potential dangerous situations for children this age is to supervise so you can rush in and prevent a dangerous occurrence.

Toddlers socialising
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Fine, let your 8 year old get wet because he refused a coat but you simply can not wait for a natural consequence when physical or emotional violence is taking place.

Anyone who’s attended a high school should know that a child who is bullying is rarely ostracised by their peers. In a lot of cases they’re allowed to dominate and have a gang of followers and peers who are afraid to get on the wrong side of them.

Another child can not be left to suffer while your child works out that she won’t be well liked if she continues acting that way.

I’ve been there…my three year old has tried out hitting and kicking. He tried…I calmly reminded him that it wasn’t OK. He did it again and I warned him that we would leave if it happened again as we had to keep everyone safe. He didn’t stop so we left.

Infact, we stopped attending playgroup for months as he didn’t enjoy the interactions. He was stressed out by the aggressive kids and all of the toys. When we returned he was a different child. He was developmentally ready…I didn’t have to force it.

So, where do we go from here…

We live in a world that’s full of different beliefs and opinions. Difference isn’t a bad thing but we have laws that help to develop a sense of ‘normal’ and they set also set a certain expectation.

It’s a much better idea to explain to young children from the start that physical and emotional violence are not acceptable than to allow them to ‘experiment and practice their skills’ on someone else’s child.

I want my child to meet lots of different people and to be sociable (that’s a reason we’re world schooling). However, I also want them to be clear on what is an acceptable way to treat people and an acceptable way to be treated.

I don’t want to make any struggling parents feel worse. This isn’t aimed at you. If you need a hand just ask. I’d be happy to watch another child so that you could have a cuppa and a chat. I’m sure other parents would too.

I don’t claim to be perfect. I have my share of off-days. I turn on the TV to keep my boys entertained and when they’re bored of that I turn on the Kindle Fire so that I can binge on biscuits 🤣.  I can sit on my phone too much! I blog to keep myself sane and so I don’t forget how to write.

I hope that even one person can read this and adapt their parenting a little if they feel they’ve learnt something new. We’re always learning and should never be afraid to reflect and adapt.

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