I’ve been noticing how M, now 7, has become more and more social as time has gone on. Socialization is, of course, one of the hot button issues when it comes to learning outside of school. Why people think learning to be social with 30 other kids who are also learning to be social makes sense – especially when the main lessons are to sit down, be quiet and do what you’re told – is beyond me. (If recess were 6 hours long, I could see school as a place to learn social skills, but not in a classroom.)
I wouldn’t have noticed his social skills much if it weren’t for other parents noting repeatedly that he is/was quiet, or adults who talked to him and tried to force the conversation along by noting how quiet he was. Sometimes they were genuinely nice about making gentle jokes, but often it came across as a bit rude and judgmental.
To me, he was just himself. I would know, since I was a quiet, shy kid with memories of being forced to be social. I recalled feeling angry and embarrassed. I was ok to let M be and not embarrass him needlessly.
It wasn’t always easy – sometimes people would say Hi to him and ask his name and he wouldn’t respond. Or sometimes he would turn around and walk away. I felt embarrassed on occasion and had to remind myself that it was about him, not me. Once we had some privacy, I’d talk to him about politeness and why responding to questions about his name may be a nice thing to do. He’d listen, and sometimes he’d respond to me, sometimes he wouldn’t. That’s just him and how he felt at the time.
But from time to time, there would be glimpses of his growth and self-confidence. When he was comfortable, he would often not stop talking. He was like that at home, of course, and with family. But one day he spent well over an hour talking to a neighbor’s relative visiting from Mexico. An almost stranger, yet he was yabbering away. We have no clue what they were talking about, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that he was confident and comfortable in that moment, with that person.
In the past year he’s finally started to make polite responses when strangers say Hi or ask his name. Ever since we moved to the beach, he’s shown a much greater interest in meeting and playing with new kids at the beach. We’ve given him suggestions on how to break the ice – smile, say Hola, offer a toy to play with. He rarely takes the suggestion immediately, but he remembers (he’s always been like that – we can explain something and he’ll know it months later).
Yesterday he saw a kid on the beach, a younger kid with his parents. The mother was familiar as she works in a store we’ve been in a few times. He went over to where they were and the next thing we knew, he was yabbering away with the mom. I realized then that he had the confidence in himself to just go and do it, and I felt happy for him – and a bit sad that the little boy isn’t so little anymore.
I should have seen it coming – he’s been more likely to ask strangers questions, like when looking for something in a store. I wonder if it’s osmosis as I’ve found myself starting conversations with strangers everywhere I go – which was not common at all in the US.
I feel so privileged to witness this growth. It’s a natural, wonderful progression – and it’s just him being himself. We could have pushed him to be like this or that, but as we trusted, he grew at his own time and pace. I believe the long-term benefits of self-confidence are well worth a couple of short years of not conforming to social expectations.