I love where we live. I know the suburbs aren’t for everyone and I’ve lived in the country (not in an urban area yet) but I really feel like we have the best of most worlds. We’re about 20 minutes or so away from “the city”. Our street kind of makes a horseshoe shape so there’s not much traffic, but the two things that really sold us on buying this house about 7 years ago were:
1. That there were kids all over the place.
2. That there is a big field, small “woods” and a little creek right behind our house and about 7 others.
The other night (like most nights) the kids in the neighborhood were outside playing. The night this picture was taken, the big kids (about 5th grade) were teaching the little kids (as young as 4 years old) how to play kickball. Here is what they really learned:
- Taking turns
- Fun competition
- Competition with themselves (kicking farther, higher… running faster)
- How to explain and show someone how to do something
- How to listen and follow directions
- How to keep your temper in spite of frustrations
- What fun it is to joke around
- The sense of pride that comes with helping someone younger or not as skilled as yourself
- The sense of pride that comes with being included with “the big kids”
- How to say I’m sorry (and mean it or at least look like you mean it!)
- How to accept an apology and move on
- That it’s okay to cry when you’re hurt
- That it’s okay to just be present with someone who is crying because they’re hurting
- That most mom’s and dad’s watch out for kids
There’s nothing wrong with organized sports or classes or other types of activities for kids but I think it’s really important not to get sucked into thinking that school or some team is how our children get socialized. It’s simply not true for many, many reasons! We talk a lot about this throughout Because They Waited and many of our other courses and webinars so I won’t go through it all again here… Suffice it to say that skills like empathy, cause and effect thinking, emotional regulation are (hopefully) being built from infancy and if a child or adult doesn’t have these skills then all the group activities in the world aren’t going to help them become “socialized”.
The other point we make in many of our programming is that if children became socialized through being in a group of other kids with only a few caregivers, then kids coming from orphanages would have amazingly advanced social skills!
Anyway, all parents need to understand that social skills are learned in a family setting with a primary caregiver (Cycle of Need again and again) and practiced in groups.
The example of the neighborhood kids is a great example of an excellent way of practicing and learning more social skills. Why does it work??? For a lot of reasons…. the mix of ages of kids, the freedom and comfort of being “at home” but being in public but most of all, because parents are present. We’re very fortunate that most of the parents in our neighborhood have very similar expectations and values. While we may not be exactly on the same page, we’re at least in the same chapter!!! And so if our 4-year-old Olivia is wailing in the backyard the dad next door may respond…. just as I may respond to their 4-year-old daughter’s needs if I am handy and near by. Another parent may moderate an argument before it escalates into a fight. And there is an understanding that if things start getting too out of control (fussing, arguing, etc…) then all the kids will get sent home to take a break and try again later.
It works beautifully for the most part, but not because our kids are extra amazing… it’s because they have a strong foundation of skills learned very early in their families, still being developed and now being further nurtured by other families all within the safe small world of our little neighborhood.