You’ve micromanaged your child’s socialising up until now – whom he or she plays with, which toys are allowed, where they go – but once they start school, you’re forced to become more hands-off as they spend a large chunk of their day away from you. Does that mean you can no longer influence this vital aspect of growing up? Not necessarily. Here are a few helpful hints on how to stay involved – from afar.
There’s nothing worse than your little one coming home from school and telling you nobody wants to play with them, especially when they first start school. Your best bet for dealing with this is to make sure your child knows how to behave to be a good friend, says Laura Battles, a parent and family support director at the Dubai-based The Developing Child Centre. Lynn Murray, a mum from the UK, agrees: “My daughter is an only child and wasn’t used to having to share or take turns,” she explains. “So we made sure we concentrated on behaviour issues such as this at home, then she had a better idea of how to behave at school.”
Children will naturally fall into some form of hierarchical order in a classroom right from the early days, says Battles, as each is different and with their own personality. The best way to help them find their place in school is to encourage independence as much as possible at home.
“Learn the difference between things your child can’t do and won’t do, for example putting their socks or shoes on, and don’t be too soft,” she explains. “If you wrap them in cotton wool, it could be to their detriment as they may fall behind their peers.”
For older children, it becomes vital to monitor behaviour signs at home in case they indicate problems at school. “Watch for teenagers spending a lot of time alone, or changes in eating habits,” Battles says. “Sometimes older children find it difficult to express how they’re feeling, especially about fitting in at school, and it will show indirectly.”
Is your child introverted and sometimes shy? Or does he naturally take charge? Either way, you can use it as a learning opportunity at any age, says Battles. “If your child is an alpha child, he may have difficulty sharing attention,” she explains. “At home, explain that not everybody has the confidence to put their hand up and ask what your child could do to encourage their friends and help them feel more confident.” Or, if your child tends towards the quieter side, ensure they know their achievements don’t go unnoticed and give praise where it’s due.
Using the differences between parents or siblings can also help children understand the differences between personalities, says Battles.
Materialism often becomes an issue when children are old enough – at a stage sometimes called the tweenage years – to appreciate the value of certain items and understand the difference between the haves and the have-nots, says Battles. So what to do?
“It’s usually more difficult for those who don’t have, especially in UAE society where the culture is to have, so try to get them to understand the value of non-material things such as health, happiness, friendship and nature,” Battles explains. “Help them understand good citizenship, the importance of looking after things and recycling, and to value simpler things in life. And, of course, it’s important to teach children that material things won’t make you happy; as an example, use your own upbringing, as you likely won’t have had what’s available now.”
As an Islamic country, it’s natural that some schools will segregate children according to gender from an early age. Will this cause problems with socialising? Not necessarily, says Hind Mohammed, 43, a mother of two boys and three girls. “If your children go to a single-gender school, it’s likely they will also socialise in single-gender circles outside the home so their school will mirror their social lives,” she says. Of course, teaching them respectful behaviour towards the opposite gender at home is vital. “Make sure your family’s behaviour sets a good example, so when your children do mix with the opposite gender they have good role models to base their behaviour on,” Mohammed explains.
What the kids say
Sienna Mogg, 9, didn’t experience any problems settling in socially at school. “To make friends, I’m nice to the other person and play with them gently and kindly,” Sienna says. Materialism isn’t important to her, either. “I don’t care if my friends have more than I do, or better things, as long as they’re nice friends,” she says.
Nasreen Khan, 12, finds some of her classmates are competitive when it comes to the latest desirable gadget, but she tries not to get involved. “Some of the boys always want the latest video games and the girls like expensive mobile phones, but I don’t care about those things,” she says. “I’m happy spending time with my friends doing things we like doing.”
Joseph Gilroy, 8, has a refreshing attitude towards materialism in the classroom and outside: “It doesn’t matter if my friends have more than I do, as long as they’re nice.”