Socialization

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It’s interesting how everyday life gives us little reminders of what we believe about child development and parenting. For Katie this week it was a trip through the Barnes and Noble check out line. For me it was sitting in my mom’s hospital room yesterday after her knee surgery and chatting with her roommate.

This 30 something mom of two was personable and talkative. (Those of you who know me know that talkative is a great match for me. ) When her husband and two kids came in to visit I was charmed by how her 6 year old climbed into bed next to her and how she stroked his hair and face and soothed his worries about the big bandage on her leg. Her husband was equally attentive to the two year old. It was a nurturing and attuning scene.

Later this mom shared with me that her 6 year old son has been through quite an ordeal. Born prematurely and with many health issues, he has battled for his survival from day one. Still today, at 6 years old, he has to occasionally be fed from a tube. He has a shunt because of hydrocephaly complications, and many other challenges. In order to keep up with all of her son’s many doctor’s appointments, medications, and therapies as well as to also parent their now 2 year old she has become a stay at home mom. Although she admitted it was a necessity that she stay home, she also expressed deep gratitude that she was able to be home with both her boys.

As we were chatting about the joys and challenges of staying home she made a remark that we hear at Heart of the Matter Seminars all the time. She said that while it was great that she gets to stay home, and great that her oldest went to part time kindergarten, she is concerned about “socialization.” She worries the two year old should probably go to at least one day a week of a “Mothers Day Out” program, and her older son should probably be doing some other extra curricular activities with kids his age in order for them to become “socialized.” She felt guilty that because her family didn’t make much money with her staying at home she couldn’t provide her boys with the “proper” situations to optimize their “socialization.”

Since a hospital room in the wee hours of the night is not the place to debate how to socialize a child I gave her the simple version of what I believe by telling her that I thought what I had seen her do the night before by comforting her darling sons in her bed, and what she did everyday all day long with them was far more important to their socialization than finding a group of kids to interact with somewhere. She was obviously grateful for the vote of confidence but I could tell she still didn’t believe.

If I could wave a magic wand for this mom I would give her the joy of knowing that what she is doing for her boys is the perfect example of building foundational socialization skills (and so much more). She and her husband were giving them a nurturing, attuned, needs meeting and loving home life.

I think so many people in our country are confused about socialization of children. They think it is something that happens when they place their 2 year old in a group of 2 year olds at Mom’s Day Out or their 6 year old in a dance class. I think socialization is something that happens at the familial level and then, once established, can be practiced in the outside world. This family did lots of outside activities with their extended family, church, and neighbors. These things offered the boys chances to practice the beautiful skills that their mom and dad were building with them everyday in their nurturing and needs meeting environment.

In other words—there’s nothing wrong with soccer teams, dance classes, Mother’s Day Out programs, play groups, etc, but they are not necessary to socialize a child. Especially for children with extra challenges, being in a needs meeting home environment trumps a dance class any day!

Here’s to the great mom that inspired this post! May she feel confident and purposeful about the great work she is doing today.

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