On School and Siblings: The Socialisation Myth

I wanted to explore this topic because I believe there is a misconception about how children learn the rules of social conduct. Feel free to rebut the arguments here and/or share your experiences in the comments.

There are technically two points I’m discussing here, the first is related to child personality…

When Aristotle was little, there was a concern that he was “anti-social” and that it would be better if I sent him to playschool to learn how to “socialise” with other children. I was swayed by this argument because it was clear that he preferred to play alone rather than mix with other children. That said, although he generally shied away from birthday parties with lots of unfamiliar children, he was not incapable of socialising. He played well with his god-sister (at that age his god-brother was still a little too young) and he “socialised” well with other children he was familiar with so long as it was a one-to-one or small group gathering. Many unfamiliar adults who came in contact with him found him engaging, sociable and entertaining. They would compliment him on being so well behaved and so mature for his age. Far from being incapable of socialising, he just preferred to be in the company of adults. When it came to children, he needed to be familiar with them and in an environment he was comfortable with.

For fear that my son would turn into a social recluse, I thought that school was the answer and I rushed headlong into sending him to preschool. Now that he is older and I have had a better chance to ponder over it, I think it was unfair to label Aristotle as anti-social. Many children are like that. In fact, there are also adults who are like that. They are called introverts. I know I am one. The friends who are close to me have laughed when I claim to be an introvert. They believe that because I am so comfortable talking to them that I must be an extrovert.

Perhaps that is the misconception… It is not that an introvert is incapable of talking to other people. I read an explanation of introverts and extroverts once that I think explains their natures very well. An introvert is a person who gains energy from being alone. It isn’t that they cannot be around people. In fact, it can be very enjoyable for an introvert to spend time with close, familiar people. It’s just that every so often, they need a bit of quiet time away from everything to recharge their batteries – so to speak. An extrovert gets energised by being around people. They thrive on the constant interaction.

Assuming that a child lacks social skills because he enjoys spending some time alone is like reprimanding a child without understanding his motivation for his actions (which may actually be noble even if the action that resulted was not). We are far more understanding of adults who prefer to be alone than we are of children who prefer to be alone. This is yet another example of how children are held to a higher set of standards than we would expect from another adult.

The other point relates to children learning socially-acceptable behaviour from other children. There is this belief that sending a child to school to be with other children will help them learn social qualities, like sharing. The irony is that most children I know have learned how to be selfish because of learned behaviours from other children at school. Children learn that if they give their toy to another child that child may not return it, therefore they must hang on to that toy as tightly as possible so they won’t lose it. Sharing toys with an adult teaches the child to take turns because the adult will always return the toy when the child asks for it.

The reality is that children will not learn appropriate social behaviour by mixing with other children. They learn it first from adults. Expecting a child to learn appropriate behaviour by throwing them into a group of children is like expecting the blind to lead the blind. Although children can learn good behaviours from other children when they model after a well-behaved child, there is also exposure to a repertoire of undesirable behaviours. It’s kind of like Russian Roulette.

Of course there are plenty of other reasons why we would want our children to mix with other children. All I’m saying is that expecting a child to learn how to behave appropriately (especially when they are only 3 years old) through playing with other children is ill-conceived. At the end of the day, appropriate behaviour is still best learned from modelling adults and older children who “know better”.

The reason why siblings are added into the title of this post is because that is sometimes the reason why we have another child. Digressing a little here, one of the best reasons why I think having siblings is great is because of the potential life-long friendship that you have (although it could be argued otherwise as well).

Further Reading:

  • Socialisation: Homeschooling vs schools – interesting article that tackles a lot of the misconceptions about homeschooling socialisation. It has Christian references but the article is relevant regardless of religious background. 
  • Helping Your Child with Socialisation – if your child’s socialisation is a really a concern to you, this is a good article to read on how you can help your child.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

2 thoughts on “On School and Siblings: The Socialisation Myth

  1. Interesting thoughts about preschool.

    Although I do think kids might have a hard time with unfamiliar kids because they are too unpredictable. The actions of adults are typically fairly predictable twds kids. I do think preschool can give them a good chance to be with a variety of different personalities. And through trial and error, they have to learn how to deal with all the unpredictabilities between the relationships.

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  2. As an introvert, I agree whole-heartedly with you. I can socialise when the need arises but need a lot of quiet time alone, to filter out the day’s “noises”.

    There’re many parallels between Vee and Aristotle’s behaviours. He enjoys chit-chatting with adults and older children, and loves babies. But not so open to those around his age. Extreme example: he hasn’t spoken to his classmates at Shichida even after 1 year, whereas he ran off to play happily with Fz’s daughter the first time they met!

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