These days people are super worried about their child’s social life. I once had a mom who didn’t want her two year-old to hang out with any children younger than her, because she felt it would stifle her child’s development. Parents are way over scheduling their kids for fear they won’t have any social skills. This is stupid, so stop it.
What did you do when you were a child? I’ll tell you what I did before I went to school at the age of four. Nothing. That’s right, nothing. My grandparents were my babysitters, and they had a fenced-in yard. I played outside, mostly by myself, and sometimes with the neighbor girl who was three years older than me. She liked to play “school”, which might have been fun, except she went to a catholic school…in the ’70s…need I say more? So on the days that I would play with her, we played “school”, she was the teacher, and I would have to call her “Sister something-or-other.” Class consisted of me sitting and listening to her while she sang, and periodically being hit with a wooden spoon.
Fuck that noise! What the hell!?! There must not have been any parents around, because I sure don’t remember any!
So, with all of my experience playing by myself, or with my grandma, or playing “school” with the neighbor girl, I went off to real school. Guess what? I know your mind is about to be blown right now, I WAS FINE. I was a little shy at first, but it wasn’t traumatic, and my social skills weren’t lacking at all. So how in the hell did I learn those social skills without Gymboree, and soccer, and dance class, and what-the-hell-ever else is out there? I’ll tell you how. I was a human being existing in a society.
I realize that I’m talking about only one child here, and that child is myself. I also realize that anecdotes aren’t evidence, but just humor me for a minute…
Do you take your child with you to places like the grocery store? Do your children attend family gatherings from time to time? Do they ever go anywhere at all? If so, your child is learning social skills. Hopefully you are using positive guidance to help them along, but every interaction with any other human being whatsoever is socializing. When your child sees you interact with other people, they learn social skills. When your toddler rides the bus with you, because you live in a large city where mass transit is necessary, you’re teaching your child how to behave on the bus. To children, everything is a learning experience.
For those of you who are put out by a child on a bus, or a plane, or anywhere else, go fuck yourself. You need to realize that if a child is within earshot, or visible, they are learning social skills based on either your piss-poor attitude, OR your kindness and respect of other humans. Pop quiz! Which one do you think turns out better members of society?
The point is that every interaction with other humans shows children how they should interact. So to the public, I implore you, be on your best behavior when children are around. Say, “excuse me”, “please”, and “thank you.”
Let’s come back to all of the fun classes, early preschool, and playdates for which we schedule infants, toddlers, twos, threes, fours… Totally unnecessary. Yep. Unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, those things are fun if you have the means, just not necessary for your child’s development of social skills. And in moderation please! No one needs to be scheduled every day of the week. There is a lot for your two year-old to learn just by sitting and cutting up pieces of paper all by themselves. Digging in the mud is hours of entertainment. Let them be kids!
Now let’s say you agree with me, and opt out of all of the mommy-and-me crap. How can you help bolster your child’s social skills? Let them order for themselves at restaurants. Let them hand the money or credit card to the cashier at the store. Encourage them to ask another child to play at the park. Let them speak for themselves when someone asks them a question. Tell them what is appropriate and/or expected of them in different environments, like church, the library, or a Metallica concert.
There is absolutely no reason that a typically developing child needs you to sign them up for classes, and arrange playdates, all the time, everyday. There is no prescribed amount of time they should spend participating in god-knows-what. And there’s absolutely nothing that says children who play with older children have an advantage in school, or that playing with younger children delays development (just to reiterate for that mom in case she reads this, it’s fucking stupid).
Do your best to model appropriate behavior, and let your kids be kids.
One last thing, if you notice that your child is becoming mean and obnoxious, or exhibiting any other behaviors that you consider unsavory, before you read them the Riot Act, take a good, long look in the mirror. Chances are, they learned it from you. Yeah, you.