Friday, January 21, 2011

On Socialization

Homeschool Gym
I find it so interesting that most people, upon hearing that we homeschool, no matter how supportive or unsupportive they might be, bring up socialization at some point.
  • "Well, obviously your kids are bright, but I would worry about socialization.”
  • Snarky Little Tip: If my kids have chatted with you long enough to show you how bright they are, chances are good that they can socialize.
  • "I think it’s great to let kids guide their own educations, but don’t you ever worry that they won’t
    learn how to socialize?”
  • Snarky Little Note: I usually get this comment while our collective kids are playing together harmoniously at the park or on the beach.
  • “I would LOVE to homeschool, but I just can’t get past the socialization issue.”
  • Snarky Little Confession: I have no need to convert anybody to homeschooling.  To each his or her  own.  I respect your choice to educate your children however you have chosen.  There’s really no need to try and convince me that you would love to homeschool.  The reality is that, in most situations, if you are not homeschooling, you don’t actually want to homeschool.  And that’s REALLY okay with me.
I wonder if Ma Ingall’s ever had to deal with these questions.

I would like to challenge people on the homeschool version of the Hitler Comparison (as in, if you run out of arguments, compare your nemesis to Hitler) of homeschooling.   Rather than ramble on, which
I have done before in this blog, allow me to share a story (and THEN ramble on):

Today, at a homeschooling gym activity, one pre-teen girl was feeling a bit emotional about something she found embarrassing.  Since her mother was not there (she had arrived with another family), I took her aside to chat.  I shared with her some of my own similar embarrassments.  She smiled.  I asked her if she needed a hug and she nodded.  So I gave her one.  At that moment, two other pre-teen girls (my
daughter included) came bounding over to her and joined our conversation, assuring her that they understood her embarrassment, that they had had the same or similar experiences, and that they really wanted her to come join their soccer game.  Off the three went, arm-in-arm, to the indoor soccer “field”.

Here’s the thing: the two supportive friends watched everything I was doing with their friend and took their cues from our exchange.  Essentially, when they joined us, they employed the exact same techniques of comfort that I had just executed, right down to the embrace.

And it worked.

Kids need to watch how adults handle difficult situations in order to learn to navigate them themselves.   They need to see adults engaged in meaningful friendships in order to learn to develop their own friendships.   My kids learn more from how I handle conflict with my husband or a friend than they learn from their own friendships.  Let’s face it, most childhood friendships these days are based upon circumstances: who your mom knows, who lives on your street, who is on your team, etc.  Young kids don’t so much choose their friends as they have their friends handed to them.  From the child’s perspective, this is fine for a few years.  After all, to a young child, a friend is anyone who will play with them.  Or be in the same room while they play.  Or, often times, as is the case with my kids, anyone who waves to them on the beach:

Child: “Mamma, my best friend and I both swam in the lake for 2 hours today.”
Me: “I didn’t see your friend.”
Child:  “She was over on the other side of the lifeguard tower.”
Me: “Oh.  What’s your best friend’s name?”
Child: “I don’t know.” 

True story. 

As children enter those special pre-teen years, though, friendships are no longer all that simple and natural.   It’s no wonder then that "Mean Girl Syndrome" rears its ugly head at this time.  Suddenly, friendships take work.  Feelings are hurt and a slap on the back or offering of the coveted big shovel are no longer enough to heal the wounds.

Those same two girls who comforted their friend together earlier today left the gym glaring at each other.
Both of them had wanted to rule the soccer game and they butt heads over it.  My daughter spewed all the details as soon as we got in the car.  She is scathing.  She continues to stew over the matter as I
write this.  Hopefully, later, when she is calm, we can walk through it together.  Hopefully, the fact
that she has watched me and her father disagree, become tense, cool down, and then work it out will help her through this glitch in her friendship.

I feel very lucky because the fact that I was the first person she saw after their conflict meant I got to be
the listening, comforting ear.  Instead of having another girl, perhaps one who might also have been
frustrated with her friend, one without a lot of life experience navigating deep friendships, “counsel” her
through this, I get to be the one who offers both comfort and a listening ear.

The last time these two girls had a conflict, Rhubarb also shared every detail of the conflict with
me.  In doing so, admittedly after a good, long (really long, kind of crazy long actually) pout, she
was able to see that both girls had contributed to the conflict.  Rather than taking sides, as other girls
her age might do, I listened and then asked her how important the friendship was to her (I'm mature like that).

She responded that it was important enough to work out their struggle.  They did.

Kids learn to relate by watching the adults in their lives.  It neither requires a school yard nor a bully
to learn the fine art of socialization.

I leave you with a quote by Eric Hoffer, philosopher and author:
When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.


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