Finding your place in a group
Nearly everything that children take part in consist of groups. Classes at school are often groups of nearly 30 children, with only one teacher to keep an eye that the dynamics of the group are working. Getting our children involved in extra-curricular activities usually also include taking part in group activities, eg music lessons, swimming, brownies, cubs etc. Socialisation is a huge part of life and it is important to help your child find a way to socialise with other children, even if it needs a big input from you to help push them in the right direction. We, as adults, may be socialised into this world, but our little dears need to learn these skills too, and some have a very difficult path through the journey of socialisation. Let’s not forget as adults we may also find socialisation difficult, and have our own experiences that influence our behaviour towards our children’s learning in socialisation.
When it comes to socialisation I find it easier to look at ‘groups’ as a whole and by understanding the dynamics of groups, we can look at where are children fit in within these groups. Where ever you are at school, work, nursery, brownies, swimming, even at home in a family structure you are part of a group and everyone has to find their place within that group. There are different roles within a group and not everyone wants to have every role within that group. For example, there will always be a leader. There are also different leadership styles within groups and this can influence how the group is run. Does the leader allow for other views to be sought, or does he/she take over and everyone must do as he/she says? Other roles within the group could be the joker, the peacemaker, the observer, to name a few. The observer may never feel like they want to be a leader and that needs to be respected, even if you would like to encourage the observer to speak out a little more. It is a natural part of life to take on different roles within a group, the main thing is to check your child is happy being part of this group, in whatever role they are in. You don’t have to be the loudest person to be happy in a group, but at the same time it is important to find out that the reason they are quiet is because they choose to be, rather than because they feel that they cannot speak out.
A child’s place within a group can also change depending on the stage at which they joined the group. This is also worth thinking about as an adult. I, for example, find it hard to join a group that is already formed. There are already relationships formed within the group, and it takes me a while to find my place. It’s always hard being new! We often are keen for our children to join extra-curricular activities, but it can be nerve wracking for the child to walk in and join established groups, especially if they don’t know anyone. Once you find your place within the group you have a sense of belonging and this helps to promote self-esteem and help them develop personally, but it can take a while to feel safe and secure. How many children are ready to give up after trying one session at something? They do not feel safe yet, but if you help encourage them to stick it out, in the long term they should reap the benefits.
The size of the group also plays a part in how easy a child finds it to ‘fit in’ at times. Some children naturally prefer being with one or two others rather than a group of 15 and that’s ok. Although we may want our child to be popular and have lots of friends, our child may have other ideas and only seem to want to ‘hang out’ with a chosen few. Every child has their own personality and this needs to be respected within the groups they choose to form themselves. We can encourage them to try out different clubs and groups, but ultimately they need to choose their own friends within the groups. If your child is an extrovert, they will love spending time with other people and gain energy from being part of a group. However, an introvert is often happiest spending time alone.
Children are going to make mistakes within their socialisation learning, and this is where it can become really hard for parents to support and help their child through the process without getting too involved themselves. Children are going to fall out with other children. Although they may have a sense of belonging within a group, that doesn’t mean that they have stopped thinking about themselves. They first need to recognise their own feelings, and then move on to thinking about how their actions affect others. Neither of these are easy processes, and quite often the latter isn’t learnt without making mistakes. No one is perfect, and the important thing to do is try to learn from these mistakes. There are always two sides to every story and socially it is important to view the problem from all viewpoints of those involved. This can be hard when your own child feels that someone has been unkind mentally or physically to them. As a parent, you want to protect your child from any hurt from others and can quite quickly move into defensive mode. It is also hard when you learn that it is your child who has been unkind to another.
Communication is the most vital tool you can use and role model the behaviours you want to see. If your child has been unkind and you start shouting the odds at them and send them to their room without spending time talking about what has happened, it will only confuse the child further. What has caused the child to lash out physically or mentally? There is usually some sort of trigger that has caused this behaviour and it is important to try and work out what it is. They do need to understand consequences and that their behaviour at that time was unacceptable but it needs to be dealt with, without rash judgement or a rash punishment. The key is to start working on strategies to prevent this behaviour happening and helping the child control him/herself.
For the child who has physically or mentally been hurt it is also important to try and help them if this situation occurs again. You cannot always be by their side and they need to learn what to do to look after themselves. Are they able to describe what happened in the moments before the unkindness? What strategies can they use to try and stop this happening again? It is really important to talk to an adult about problems with socialisation so that an eye can be kept on it. How can the children learn if they are not given guidance? Both children need help in different ways to ensure that they navigate these early years without too many negative experiences.
So, in a nutshell, socialisation is important, but also it is important to recognise your child’s personality and how they feel within groups. An introverted child will succeed by being part of smaller groups, but they still need to learn how to adapt to a bigger group as ultimately school is one big group. An extroverted child may need assistance in understanding that not everyone wants to play games that sets them at the centre of attention. It isn’t easy being around so many children every day and it is normal to get on better with some children than others.
If you feel you need any extra help or guidance in regards to your child’s socialisation, please do not hesitate to get in touch.