I must apologize to my readers for the tardiness of this blog. I have been busy managing some health issues, and my writing has taken a back seat; however, the issue of friendship is an old one, and it has recently come to me in the form of many different concerns of parents of many ages.
When I was a young parent, I was very anxious to see my children participating in a positive way with other children of their own ages. I started with girlfriends who had babies the same ages as mine, and we created playgroups together. We would use our own houses every five weeks for a few hours of together time with our five babies. Their play was for the most part, parallel play, since they did not know how to speak in sentences yet. Somehow we felt proud that they were getting used to the idea of being social, and we had fun comparing notes on how the previous week had gone. Today, with so many working moms, I find that there are an increased number of opportunities for young children to participate in all kinds of classes offered for young children. These classes allow nannies and grandmothers and caregivers to bring the children for the fun. Either way, the youngest of the children are getting the idea of interacting with each other.
As my children reached the ripe old age of 3, they started having friends ask for play dates. I had not gone back to work yet, but I felt that it was important to be there to see how the children were doing. Some of the other mothers nicknamed me the "sergeant" because I came along on the play dates. I was waiting to see if this was going to be the play date in which my child's future best friend would be discovered. I laugh at my behavior since now I understand it all so much more. The important thing that I was doing was exposing my children to other children. Secretly, I never stopped waiting for the best friend to be found.
By the time my children were in elementary school, they were asking me for play dates with the children in their classes that they liked. Each time I made sure that I took them to get a treat after school, and if it was a weekend, there were movies or special places to see. When school resumed on Monday, I would inquire if they played together to talk about their times together. Most of the time, they smiled at me and reported that they had a new best friend now! I was confused at first, but then I realized that they were all trying on different hats to decide which fit best. I really had nothing to do with the promotion of the friendships. They had to each find their own ways, which they did. My son found his best friends through sports teams and in neighborhood play. I found it interesting that the boys with whom he chose to play were very much like him, and that was a good thing. My daughter's best friend lived right next door, but she also found her comfort zone in girls that were sweet like her at school.
When I went back into the classroom I had parents who focused on the socialization issue just like I had done in the years before, so I understood their concerns. This is what I found. There were three kinds of parents that needed the most help:
The first kind of parent wanted their child to be the most popular. (Yes...even in second grade!) That meant when it was time to start play dates, a group of children would be selected to go to fun activities like the rides at the beach. During school parties, they brought the fanciest treats for everyone, even when asked to keep it simple. I found that I needed to counsel these folks the most, and I often heard teary stories of sadness about their own experiences in a less than satisfactory elementary school.
The second group of parents were overly protective. Their motives were pure, but when it came time to sign up for field trips or to plan play dates, their children were not allowed to go. Naturally this sent the wrong message to the child, and it created huge anxiety in the child. I included this group of parents by offering them small tasks in the classroom, so that they could see that their children were well supervised, and then I had the ability to help0 them find ways to let go of their fears.
The third group of parents had vested their entire lives in their children. They brought them to school, hovered around the classrooms, peeked through the fence at recess time, and sought out the teacher for daily conferences when possible. I had to ask the director for some help with these parents, as I could not think of enough things for them to do to keep them occupied in a constructive way. Their constant hovering interfered with their children becoming socialized and acclimated to the others.
With the new school year just beginning, I urge parents to be cognizant of the issue of socialization. With one good friend who plays with your child's toys and vice versa, your child can have security at school of that one person who will watch his/her back. Encourage but don't force, support but don't pressure. It will happen!