Someone asked me about their 3-year old son’s recent change in behaviour in not wanting to go out to playgroups or activities as much as he had before.
We had a similar situation around the same age and I struggled with it for a long time. In fact, I think that only in the past year (since he turned 7) have I come to a comfortable place with all of this. Who knows how much of that is because he’s changed as well or that I’ve learned to truly honour his personality instead of of imposing my own on him.
As soon as I started implementing a routine that included some sort of structured socializing (which in our case was a weekly, home-grown, parent-participation Waldorf group in someone’s home) he bagan to balk. This was soon after his third birthday. I waffled between indulging him in his desire to stay home with us (his parents) and luring, cajoling, and persuading him of the benefits as I perceived them, of going to the playgroup. Some weeks we made it. Others we didn’t.
On those weeks when he eventually deigned to let me put him in his bike seat and peddle there he was happy for a short period but very soon, was asking to go home again.
In a nutshell, it was an exhausting exercise in the moment and caused me some anxiety in the days leading up to it. Naturally and inevitably I communicated my anxiety to him and the idea of a Saturday morning playgroup soon took on an aura of stress and tension.
I struggled between thinking I should force him to go in the hopes that he would grow to like it and indulging him in his desire to stay close to home with us. In the end I realized that my relationship with him was more important than my foisting external socialization on him and we let go of the expectation of and pressure to go. After that we occasionally went, but I kept it non-committal, allowing him to take the lead in showing where he wanted to go. He is different from me.
I like to socialize and have a high tolerance and even need for people with lots of ideas percolating around me as well as one-on-one and alone time. But my son is different. He likes small groups and one-on-one visits and he likes being with us. Especially at that age. It’s taken me years to really embrace and respect that and not to feel anxious about his socializing.
There’s so much talk in our culture about needing to socialize kids, even to the point, possibly, of sacrificing their happiness and potentially even their safety (think bullying) in the name of getting them together with other children.
But children are people and if they are happy and secure, they will find friends – the right ones for them, at the right time, and in their own way.
Much has been written about boys needing more emotional attachment than girls and yet our culture still holds boys at a distance in this regard, expecting them to be more independent and tough.
Gabor Mate and Gordon Neufeld’s book, Hold on to your Kids : Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers is a book from 2006 that helped me refine and redefine what I felt my son needed in terms of socializing and confirmed my intrinsic sense that my relationship with him was more important than pressuring him into something that was so obviously unwanted.
And now, nearly five years later, my little magnet, who stayed close to me all those years, is gradually spiraling out into his own sphere of peers and friends. And he is happy. I look back only a few short years and remember times on the playground when I longed to be chatting with the other mothers, but now, in retrospect, I am glad that I let him keep me close because he seems very balanced and at peace to me (in my admittedly biased perspective!). And what more can I really ask?
From a place of security and groundedness, he is ready to move on to whatever strikes his passion in a group as large or as small as he feels comfortable.