Social Maturity

Growing YearsDo you ever wonder why some preteens and teens seem so immature, making bad choices in their daily lives? And, there will always be the child that seems to “have it together” even in those turbulent years. There are many things that garners confidence in a child, but the one we will discuss today is the ability to make good choices.

Being allowed to make choices is an essential ingredient in your child’s social and emotional growth. Social and emotional growth begins in infancy when the child bonds with the significant people in his/her life. Soon after bonding, a social smile erupts and is used from that day forward to achieve various goals. The infant soon understands that a smile will bring wanted attention and goodies. The toddler not only perfects the smile, but adds drama to the scenario and, we bow to their every want. The toddler emerges from “solitary play” to “parallel play.” This requires attention to other peoples actions, including those of his/her peers. This type of play involves imitation, and is not interactive. You may have watched a group of toddlers play, never really doing anything together, without intervention from an adult. Social skills are not yet developed enough for “cooperative play” (interactive play with a peer).

Skills for participating in group games are not yet developed for the toddler, but will begin to emerge in the preschool years. If the family plays a game together just assign the toddler with an adult and he/she will be perfectly happy with the “participation.” Your child is learning how to interact socially. Social and emotional skills are intertwined and slowly develop during a lifetime. Always be alert to your child’s level of development, and respond to his/her actions accordingly. One of the best things you can do to help with your child’s social and emotional growth is to offer, and teach choices.

Making a choice is not as easy as you might think, and children have a difficult time with this skill. This is the very reason it should begin early. Everything should not be a choice, but routine or “parent driven”. Begin by offering choices of types of snack. Simply put a snack in each hand and ask, “which one do you want?” With the very young child, you may need to help with the selection, by putting one hand closer him/her. Eventually, real choosing will begin to emerge, and you will be on track in assisting your child to make real life choices, when you are not around.

It is important to allow choices in all aspects of daily life. This should include clothing, activities, toys and schedules. Choices should always be “parent driven.” Offer a choice between two things that are equally acceptable to you. Young children can only handle two choices at a time. Making these simple choices will certainly aid in social and emotional development. Your child will feel more independent and confident, when making future choices that must be made without you. And… you will be blessed with the teenager that is said to, “have it together,” and your life will be just a little easier.