Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Encourage Socialization

By Heather Pohlabel
As soon as your baby is born, he immediately belongs to a family, a community, and on a much broader scale, to the entire human race! It is easy to see how your baby resembles others in your family, whether in appearance or temperament, and as your baby grows, you will see how he fits in to your community and learns from it and grows with it. It is important not to forget that your baby is one in over five billion as well, and that despite that overwhelming number, he will have his own unique characteristics and traits. He will form his own likes and dislikes. He will have his own personality.

A good way to foster more favorable personality traits and good habits is to encourage your child to socialize. This begins with family and friends and will grow to unfamiliar surroundings and situations. Some children are by nature introverted, but encouraging socialization and providing opportunities for social activity will help even the most shy of children at least feel comfortable with who they are if nothing else.

Begin introducing your baby to as many people as you can. The smiles and happy sounds that he hears will make him happy and help teach him that interacting with people can be a very pleasant experience. Most people love babies and will happily oblige your introduction to your new baby or an opportunity for a visit. They may even want to hold him if they are comfortable with babies and if you will allow it.

I was very overprotective of my first child and did not want anyone to hold him. However, by the time I had my third child, I was passing her around to everyone, even my middle child's friends. Whoever crossed our paths got to meet baby Isabelle, and they always seemed very happy to get a good look at her or a smile from her.

I can see the difference in my older child and youngest child already. He was a very fussy baby and didn't want anyone but mommy. My youngest is very happy all of the time and smiles at everyone, even at the young age of two months. My oldest still has a hard time being in a group of more than two or three people at a time.

In addition to introducing your baby to friends, family, acquaintances, and the occasional stranger, allowing your baby to be around other babies is a good way to let them know that there are people out there like them!

When I first introduced my baby to her cousin, my baby niece, she stared at her in amazement. I could only imagine the things running through her head, but I'd almost bet that she was thinking something along the lines of, "hey, there is someone MY size who speaks MY language - I am not all that different after all; people like me do exist". I also started babysitting for another baby during the week, and although they do not really play together yet, Isabelle will watch as the other baby plays with her toys or gets in her swing or sits with her mommy. She is learning from her by watching her and also learning about herself and what she likes and does not like from other babies. We have all come to realize that she does NOT like other babies in her swing!

When your baby can sit up and hold her head steady, you can begin to do wonderful social activities together such as baby and mom swim classes and music and movement classes. These classes give babies and moms the time to enjoy stimulating activities while making friends and enjoying each other's company at the same time.

A perk to taking classes like these is being part of another type of community of like-minded parents. In our community, we have been members of the local YMCA for 13 years, and everyone there has been able to watch our children grow and help in their development. They keep an eye on them if they see them out and follow their progress through their growing years. They support our family and we support theirs. It was a great place for our children to meet and make some of their closest friends.

Some children are naturally not social and prefer to be left alone or to observe. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it also does not mean that you should not encourage socialization or should not offer social opportunities. For shyer children, you can become involved in small parents' groups such as scrapbooking groups or church groups where your child will be around other children and you at the same time. If your child does not like to be left alone with other children, this is an ideal way for her to socialize or find someone like her as she is in the safety of your presence.

Shyer children also may enjoy having one friend over to play at a time. They may not enjoy large parties or play groups, so find out whom your child would like to play with and invite that child over frequently. Using your shy child's interests can also help you to help her socialize and make friends. If she likes to draw, you can enroll her in an art class and hang around in case she needs you. Dance classes are a wonderful way for children to socialize for short periods of time.

Most of all, parents must model the types of behavior that they would like for their children to imitate and grasp. If you model the way to approach a new friend by doing it for your child the first few times, she will learn how to do it on her own, and making friends will not seem a difficult task, even for a shy child.
Parents also need to explain to their children that all people are different and that differences are OK. This will not only help them to tolerate others better; it will make them feel better about themselves, especially if they feel different.

Each child is unique and special, and that should not deter them from making friends or having the ability to do so if they so choose. Parents have the ability to guide favorable or healthy personality traits in their children by teaching them well and modeling healthy behaviors.

Socialization begins at home with the family and grows as your child does. Encouraging socialization early in life will help your child not only form lifelong friends, but will also help her feel comfortable with herself, whether she makes a lot of friends or not. She will know how to handle social situations and know how to make friends if she so chooses.

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