Food for Thought
Socialisation and Socialites
As any self-respecting parent of today knows, the issue of your child's socialisation - how he or she deals with others - is a critically important one. Indeed, if some of the baby-rearing books are to be believed, proper socialisation can determine everything from a child's academic performance to his or her future marital prospects - or even the potential levels of expenditure emanating from the required "couch trips" with the psychiatrist who will help in dealing with childhood traumas a couple of decades down the line…
Unsurprisingly therefore, there are mothers and fathers out there who have spent many a sleepless night pondering how to best manage their little one's introduction to the big world: their interactions with adults, wider society, and perhaps most complicated of all - their peers!
And let's face it, some of them have good reason to worry. Like the parents of one little boy, who went through three gruelling months during which their son wept for hours at kindergarten, breaking the hearts of all around him, and begging to be taken home. Not only did he cry with abandon and vigour, he literally did so all day every day; that is to say, during school hours. He was fine in the evenings!
But luckily for his long-term development, his exhausted parents were determined, and refused to give in. Finally, after a harrowing three months, the youngster decided that this strategy was not heeding the desired results, and abandoned it! It remains to be seen whether it is he or his parents who experience long-term trauma as a result of that particular incident...
But even for parents who are lucky enough not to have to go through such a dramatic experience, there are other problems which can crop up during the socialisation process. For example, a friend of mine whose three-year-old daughter Nisha was repeatedly identified as having certain anti-social tendencies went through a great deal of angst over this. Among other things, her daughter had a problem with "sharing", which meant that whenever toys or food arrived on the scene, it usually led to tears (and not just for Nisha!)…
On one occasion, I was present when her mother tried to talk her through the importance of sharing i.e. something along the lines of "You like it when other children share things with you, right? Isn't it fun to play with their toys? So it's nice when you share things with them too, isn't it?" Sadly, all went well until the last question, when her daughter remorselessly stated, in a tone that brooked no disagreement, "No".
Nothing else, just that one simple word, in a chillingly calm tone of voice. As her agitated mother pointed out to me shortly thereafter, "What can I do? She won't listen to anything I say! And the worst thing is, if she grows up to be an axe murderer, everyone is going to blame it on the fact that I didn't get her potty training right…!"
It's not easy being a modern parent. I can't shake the feeling that things were actually simpler in the old days. Apart from anything else, surely the levels of expectation - for both parents and children! - were lower. I don't think the behaviour of very young children was scrutinised as closely at the time when I grew up. In fact, all that was asked for was a certain degree of public etiquette, as pointed out by my friend's ayah, when at the age of two plus, she decided to join some of the other children playing in the park while they were eating grass (not mud, mind you just grass)!
"My ayah took me home and said that she was very disappointed in me, because I had earlier promised her that I would never do that again…And I knew that by doing so, I had somehow let her down. Now, she assured me, all the other ayahs would say that she was a bad ayah, because her "baby" had behaved so badly in public…So I decided then and there that I would never do something so terrible again!"
And that story is for all those who feel that children are too young to understand what is expected of them…
Part of the stress around the socialisation process is undoubtedly related to the more general levels of stress involved in modern life. For example, some Scandinavian friends of mine were taken aback, and quite distressed, when their third child made it clear how much he hated going to school. Their two older children had not had problems of this sort, so they were puzzled about why Bendik resisted the normal introduction to society with such passion.
He was an attractive, funny and bright little boy, and quite well-liked by his peers at kindergarten. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that he simply wanted more time at home, particularly since he has truly exceptional parents. In the end, like most others, he made the necessary adjustment, but his attitude remained clear in the comment that mummy and daddy had their jobs, and his job was going to school...!
Of course, not every child has difficulties in adjusting to the wider world. My friend Libby's son, Teddy, is an exceptionally friendly and outgoing little boy. So much so, that when he was younger, sometimes he couldn't contain his enthusiasm when meeting new children, particularly if he took a liking to them. On one occasion, this did lead to tears - in hugging one little girl too hard, he accidentally knocked him over! We should all have such complicated social problems…
A common phenomenon contributing to the development of social skills is the lure of the "big kids", as one of my cousins found out to her cost. At the age of nine, she had a friend over, when my niece (aged five) was deposited with them for safekeeping, by the adults. The two of them had just got into one of those particularly interesting, giggly, girlish things that nine-year-olds discuss, when the five-year-old turned her attention away from the video she had been watching and asked "What are you talking about?" Slightly disconcerted, my cousin strived for an adult tone, and said, with the aim of putting her off "We were just having a discussion." Unperturbed, my niece sweetly said, "Can I join your "cussion"...?", leaving them speechless!
And of course, there are always those magical children who seem born with the desire and ability to reach out and communicate with those around them, whether children or adults. One such child is my friend Tina's daughter Joya, who has yet to fully reach the grand age of two years. She doesn't let that cramp her style, though!
A couple of weeks ago, Joya was standing on the balcony of her home with her mother, when she looked down and spotted a couple walking down the street, carrying a small baby. In a desperate attempt to attract the baby's attention, she called out "AAAIIIIII, Takku (baldy)!" As my friend, who nearly had a heart attack, pointed out, she was just glad that while the baby was shaven headed, it's father had a full head of hair - otherwise that could have been truly embarrassing…!
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