How Parents Can Harm Their Children’s Efforts to Socialize

It was a beautiful morning at the playground and Buddy and Sissy were having a good time, when a little girl came up with her mother. She was the type of child I get hopeful about when I see on the playground because she was outgoing and bubbly, two traits that tend to help Buddy come out of his shell and socialize. Like I predicted, she came up and started talking to Buddy. And her mother started apologizing for her.

I was baffled as to what the little girl was doing wrong, other than being perhaps a bit overly friendly. But I explained to the little girl that Buddy doesn’t talk much but could still play with her. By then the mother was looking at Buddy was an obvious “what’s wrong with him?” expression on her face. For whatever reason I said, “he just has autism.”

From then on, that mother was on her daughter like glue. And it was frustrating because Buddy was trying to engage with this little girl. He would run a bit ahead of her, and then turn around and look at her and smile. He was trying to play chase. The girl picked up on the cues and started running after him.

Then Buddy ran up a slide that Sissy was sitting on. And yes, I let my kids run up slides. It’s great for their gross motor and vestibular development. Then the mother really started getting onto her daughter for climbing up the slide and annoying my kids. My kids weren’t annoyed, though. They thought they were playing.

Frankly, by this time the mother was making me nervous. Supposed my kids did start playing with hers and an accident happened (kids are accident prone) I didn’t see her as the type to just brush it off. I coaxed my kids off the slide, and as the little girl went down it, and she turned to Buddy and said, “Ha!” as she went down.

And for that the mother decided to pack her up and leave.

I was rather frustrated by the whole incident. I’m rather laid back and I want my kids to play with others on the playground, not interact with me, or spend their whole time being managed by me. They need the socialization. And I could feel that little girl’s frustration, I mean, she was being micromanaged on the playground. And for the life of me I could not see one thing the little girl was doing wrong (and if I couldn’t understand it, then I suspect that little girl was even more confused than me).

If anything, I think the little girl learned that being friendly is wrong and don’t bother children who are different, neither or which are great lessons.

There is so much that children learn on playgrounds about socialization, but they aren’t going to learn it if adults are hovering over them. If a dispute happens, for instance, the learn some conflict resolution, unless adults step in at the first sign of trouble and deprive their children of the opportunity to work it out themselves. And yes, if things like violent or aggressive behavior or name calling is happening I would absolutely step in. But this was not the case!

But I think the other thing that bothered me was how much more controlling that mother became when she learned that Buddy has autism and how she tried to keep her daughter away from Buddy. While I get that people don’t know how to react, what I want people to know is that parents of children with autism want other children to play with their children. When there’s a kid who is willing to do so, it makes us incredibly happy. And our kids need that socialization, and typically developing children need to see that they can play and have fun with kids who are neurologically different.

Further, people withdrawing from us because he has autism is hurtful. It’s not catching, and it leaves us feeling shunned.

Interacting with other mothers on the playground is extremely hard for me. For one thing my attention is divided between the mother and my children, so I’m very slow with speaking and formulating responses. While I’d told the mother her daughter wasn’t bothering us several times I wish I’d been more forceful or started from the get go about how her daughter could help by being playful with my son. But I was just overwhelmed with this woman’s presence and her response and eventually shut down myself.

Overall, though, I wish parents would just trust their children with interacting with others and back off! That little girl knew exactly what to do to draw Buddy out of his shell. I just wish her mother put a bit more trust in her.

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