Thursday, September 13, 2012

It's ok for your baby to be "anti-social"

I found out a few months ago, that a mummy I knew had made a comment that, when Ryan was a infant/toddler, I deliberately prevented him from socialising with other children. It was a shock to me. Firstly, because it is not true, and second, because it is so ridiculous - Ryan wasn't at the stage where he was able to have a conversation yet or understand how to play cooperatively - what did she expect him to be doing? (This mummy went around telling people that the reason for that was because I was too proud. I've written about this before on this blog. Ahem.)

Anyway, I brought that up because I want to talk about socialising. Well, actually I want to talk about NOT socialising.

It is correct to say that, when he was less than three years old, Ryan did not socialise with his peers. It would also have been correct if that mummy had said that I was not concerned about him socialising or that I did not push him to socialise (unfortunately she didn't put it that way). However, it is ridiculous to suggest that I prevented him from socialising with his peers. Developmentally speaking, Ryan was not at that stage where he could or even wanted to socialise.

It was not a case of preventing him from doing something he should be doing. Rather, it was a case of not forcing him to do something he was not ready for. We did what we always do - we followed his lead.

I've heard many parents say that one reason for sending their children to pre-school is for them to develop their social skills. While I agree that pre-school is a good place for learning social skills, I do not agree that you should be putting very young children in childcare/pre-school expressly for that purpose. I see little ones as young as 18 months who are sent to childcare/pre-school because they are expected to "socialise" with each other. As early as 18 months, their parents are already prepping them for the adult world.

Let me be very clear: I'm not saying that you can't put your child into childcare at 18 months. What I am saying is that socialising with his/her peers is not a good reason to do so. They are just not developmentally capable or ready. And there is a reason for that: they are supposed to be spending that period building attachments with their parents.

I have always said that, while Ryan was still in his early years, it was more important that Ryan develop a strong bond with Richard and me. I have always believed, and still do, that it is only when he develops a strong self of security and identity (through a strong and loving attachment to us) that he will be ready and able to form healthy relationships with others. And I believed, and still do, that this is the natural progression of things.

And yes, that is exactly the way it happened. We found that, at that stage (less than 3 years old), when we were in the company of people with children his age, Ryan simply preferred to stay close to us. We did not take any steps to stop him socialising. He was just not able to; he was not ready. And if he wanted to stick to us, well, we weren't going to push him away and place impossible expectations on him. We would certainly be holding him as close as he needed us to, hugging him and giving him as much assurance and security as he needed and, as and when he was ready to leave the nest and fly on his own, we would not stand in his way.

It is only now that Ryan is at the stage where he is starting to be interested in socialising with his peers, making friends, and forming meaningful relationships with other children. I'm not saying that he knows what to do in every situation. What I'm saying is that he has been able to take on these new experiences and challenges comfortably and work through them. Being "anti-social" for the first three years of his life certainly did not disadvantage him at all.

There is a ton of research out there which supports what I'm saying here. I want to share just one article, which is this one titled, "Nurturing children: Why "early learning" doesn't help". It says what I would want to say so I hope you find it a good read.

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