Social Question

jca's avatar

Parents: Do you try to encourage your children to be more social?

Asked by jca (36046points) June 2nd, 2017

My mom told me when she was little, she was painfully shy. She wished she knew to speak up for herself more. She raised me to not be shy. Not that I’m aggressive, but I’m not shy. Times in my life when I was younger, where I’ve felt I should have advocated for myself more, I pondered over and tended to beat myself up and now I can speak up for myself quite well.

I had a few friends when I was younger – not a social butterfly but not withdrawn, either.

My daughter just turned 10. She’s quite shy. She prefers to not always go to birthday parties and doesn’t have a lot of play dates.

Should I encourage her to be more social by pushing her to go to birthday parties and play dates and stuff like that? She has a few friends. Teachers tell me other kids go over to her and then she’ll play, after being approached by the other kid. She has not yet played team sports. She prefers things like crafts. When it comes to birthday parties, she may or may not always want to attend.

If you don’t feel this is a good idea, please don’t be hostile with your responses. I’m just pondering and asking.

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11 Answers

janbb's avatar

We had one very shy child who always had a few good friends. We generally supported his comfort level and the few times I tried to push him – like into joining more clubs in high school for his “resume” – always backfired. He is now a manager of projects and people at one of the large online music companies with many friends. I would follow her lead and let her find her way unless she indicates she is unhappy.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Um, not really. I don’t want to force them to do things that make them uncomfortable. I have one grandson who is on the autism spectrum (very high functioning) who keeps acting in socially inappropriate ways. For example, he’s 10 but often acts like he’s 2 or 3, mimicking his little brother and sister of that age hoping for the same attention the get for being cute. I strongly discourage that.
He is socially inept and shy, but if I was raising him I’d really be taking him off of the games and sending him outside into the neighborhood or to play by himself in our yard. Once he’s out there he’d be on his own. I think he’d make a couple of friends eventually, out of boredom.

Patty_Melt's avatar

My daughter was shy, and felt left out. I started having her do small things, with no anticipation of a lasting bond. I would have her handle our Mcd’s order, ask a bus driver for a route schedule, things like that. It was not easy for her, but less intimidating than trying to form a friendship. After a while, she gained confidence. Soon that confidence expanded into making friends, and learning how to explore her friendships.
She is still shy in new situations, but at least now she functions.
I don’t think kids should be pressured into social alliances, but I do think parents should observe whether the shyness is crippling their child socially.
If so, non personal interaction is a better starting place than parties, and other gatherings where they are expected to socialize with people they will see again.

Dutchess_III's avatar

^^^ Good plan.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

I never had to. We are all social so they learned how to be around people, share, get along, protect themselves, say no, be a friend, etc. quite naturally.

JLeslie's avatar

I wasn’t shy, but sometimes I was afraid. I missed a few things that I regret, because I was afraid.

I tend to not like to push kids too far out of their comfort zone, but when it makes sense to ask, you might want to find out exactly why she doesn’t want to go to a party, or other social event. What if it’s some girls are mean to her?

I cancelled on a ski trip with my school and friends, because someone told me people break their legs skiing all the time, and I got worried about it. I have a few other examples like that.

As far as sports, how about physical activities that aren’t team oriented. I think every girl should take ballet, or some sort of dance. Not a bad idea for boys too. If she really doesn’t like dance class then that’s fine, but if she does like it I think it’s a great physical activity, helps with many things like posture, rhythm, discipline, and dancing is part of our culture at many social events. Dance can give confidence to girls.

Other ideas are swimming, tennis, ice skating, I’m sure there are many more.

Nothing wrong with arts and crafts. I’d encourage it. Put her in a class that’s crafty, and she’ll socialize with those kids. Maybe pottery, or glass art, so many possibilities.

She is still very young. I have every reason to believe she’ll grow out of some of the shyness. Being happy working in your own is a good quality. Hopefully, she is happy when she is doing her own thing. That’s the question. Or, does she wish she was more social, but something holds her back? Some sort of insecurity?

Zaku's avatar

I think there’s a common mistake in thinking along the lines of “social is good, outgoing is good, shy is weak and bad, introverted is inferior to extroverted.” In the USA in particular, there seems to be a heavy pro-extrovert anti-introvert bias.

Labels are never perfect, but it’s somewhat accurate to label me as somewhat introverted. I am not shy. I have very little problem standing up in front of hundreds of people and speaking. I often enjoy socializing… when it seems to have some substance and authenticity to it, and when I want to, and when I don’t feel obliged to. But I have a strong bias against empty socializing, people who talk without substance or authenticity, and social situations where people babble and mingle superficially.

I don’t know if your daughter is introverted as I am, but I think if she isn’t, then I would tend to expect she will want to do social things by herself. If she is a bit like me and other introverts I know, I think making her do social things that she doesn’t want to can easily backfire. However, it’s valuable to discover what things you really don’t want to do, and what things you actually would like to do, but feel kind of like not, but might regret not doing it. For those, it can help if the deal is that you try going but you can leave if you decide you really don’t like it, or you at least talk it through and figure out if you’re going to regret it or not.

I think one of the most important things a parent can do is communicate and listen and give a child some say in what they end up doing or not doing.

So I’d say:

Should I encourage her to be more social by pushing her to go to birthday parties and play dates and stuff like that?
Only gently, and with conversations where you talk to her about what she really wants to do or not and why. Ask her how she feels about it? Does she sort of want to go? Etc. If it’s clear she really doesn’t want to, I’d not make her.

She has a few friends. Teachers tell me other kids go over to her and then she’ll play, after being approached by the other kid.
Sounds ok, especially if she gets to be good friends with some. I had a few friends, because they were the ones who were worth being good friends with. I wouldn’t think the goal is to be friends with everyone.

She has not yet played team sports. She prefers things like crafts.
Sounds normal to me. I didn’t much like team sports, unless it was something really fun, like British Bulldogs or War or Dodge Ball. I certainly didn’t want to sign up for after-school obligations to play one! Really, I would encourage any kid to find the things they are actually really interested in, and support them in doing that. Part of supporting them in that is not adding random standard “all kids should do this” obligations/activities.

When it comes to birthday parties, she may or may not always want to attend.
Sounds entirely normal to me. Again, I’d discuss but not make her go to one she really doesn’t want to go to. It can be tricky figuring out which is which sometimes but if you can talk that out with her and be her ally in figuring it out who is trustworthy and doesn’t make her do things she really doesn’t want to, that will be a great thing.

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: She takes tennis lessons. She said maybe next year she will do lacrosse. My stepfather needed a birthday gift idea for her, since her birthday just passed, and I suggested kid-sized golf clubs. He plays golf and I think if he could teach her, that would be a good thing and then they could play golf together. Maybe she won’t like it but maybe she will.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca That all sounds good to me.

I was thinking that I never was shy, but in my teens I dated a guy whose family would have big family parties constantly. Easily once a month if not more. When you arrived, you had to go around and say hello to everyone who had already arrived before you. You had to do the hello, kiss in the cheek (they were Latin American) and it was daunting to me. I didn’t like having to do it every time. Couldn’t be a simple wave and big “hi” and smile at 5 people talking in a group to acknowledge their presence, it was each person. I still think it was overkill, but it did help me learn a little about cultural difference, and I can handle situations that have this sort of etiquette. Sometimes I really did not want to go to a family party simply because I did not want to say hello to everyone. That one reason.

I never am ok with forcing a little girl to kiss or be touched by anyone, but eventually there comes a time handshakes, hugs, and even kisses, become almost a requirement, and going into social situations we don’t want to become more of an obligation, but we don’t have to constantly subject ourselves to it. For me, faking it for a while did eventually lead me to enjoying many of the social situation that I didn’t enjoy initially.

To go further, at my wedding I did not do a reception line. I felt like I didn’t want anyone to be obligated to walk through that line, reminiscent of being forced to say hello to people I didn’t know at all sometimes. I wanted everyone invited to be at the party enjoying themselves without me putting etiquette obligations in them, except to comport themselves as one does in public. Now, I know how to handle those lines when I’m forced to go through one, and I actually don’t even mind it. I also see more value in it. A chance to thank the people who are hosting the party, and who invited you. I always do this at a wedding anyway. I find the parents even if I don’t know them, and thank them, if it’s a traditional set up where the bride’s parents paid.

Stinley's avatar

My younger daughter is 10 (around the same age as your daughter, I think @jca). I have the same worries as you. She is very much a ‘look before you leap’ child. Should I encourage her more to speak up and ask for things and be more sociable or let her find her own path? And I’m kind of going for the middle ground. If she wants to buy something I make her ask for it herself but will stand beside her to give her security. If I want her to go to the local village shop, I bribe her (she can spend some of the change on chocolate). Her fears are more around strangers and it takes a long time for someone not to be a stranger.

I try to talk to her about strategies she can use when situations become uncomfortable, before she becomes very distressed. Like asking to go home if she’s playing at a friend’s. I also tell the adults to look out for her behaviour changing and to bring her home at that point. Or I tell her that she has to be back by a certain time so that she doesn’t become fed up and lose her equilibrium. She seems to understand the thinking behind this.

I am reading these other ideas here too which are useful.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m thinking, my nephew was a little shy as a child, and we worried a little about it, but by his late teens he was a different person. He still is fine doing things on his own, but he is perfectly lovely in social situations. It’s not a bad combination. He did play a team sport as a child, he played soccer. He’s also very handsome, which doesn’t hurt I’m sure.

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