I read your book and it gave me a lot of good thoughts! But I am not sure what to do in that situation: My 4-year-old son does not want to play with other children. He never did it. He watches them, but if they approach, he gets frightened or angry, sometimes even rough. Until now, I thought, it would be best to let him do as he pleases and he seems to be happy. But I don’t want to make him miss some important step in his social development. Perhaps there is something I should do? I have given him opportunities to meet other children since he was a baby. I would love some advice. I like your way very much! Thank you!
Your child sounds confident. He stick to his own way of being under social pressure. In a society that expects the child to be a “mingler,” it takes confidence to be an onlooker.
The idea that a child learn social skills by playing with children has been confusing to many parents. It is like saying that the unborn child should be taken out of the uterus periodically through pregnancy, in order to practice being in the air.
In reality, the baby is ready to be born when the need to be breathed through the umbilical chord is complete. Your child needs the connection with you until he is ready for other connections on his own time and his own initiative.
Your son will learn social skills from his relationships with competent loving adults; mostly from you. He learns intimate, loving, and caring ways of relating and will duplicate this experience with others as he grows older. For his nature, it may be years before he is interested in playing with peers. Most children would rather play only one-on-one with a close friend. Your son may benefit from relating to one older kid whose social skills are more developed than his.
Playing with more than one child is very challenging, which is why children often struggle. Even adults find it harder to be with a few people than having a visit with one close friend. Make it easy on your child by following his lead. Know that his social skills are learned from relating to you and to other adults who love him.
My middle child, now a college student, was always a spectator and hardly ever played with children. His own brothers would have a friend over, and he still rarely participated. He played a lot by himself and, at later ages, with one brother or cousin. I respected his direction. Now, in college, he is incredibly social, connecting and kind person. He relates to friends, professors and colleagues with maturity, confidence and kindness. He is respectful and forms deep connection because this is what he is familiar with through relating within the family. He has learned social competence from relating to socially competent adults.
Trust your child. What he wants is what is best for him. Respond to his social needs without trying to direct and without having an agenda, so he can stay rooted in himself and create his own connection when he is ready. The most important social skill is the ability to be yourself while being with another. Your child has that power.