Note from Laura: With the start of the school year just around the corner, many parents are considering the different types of child care for their little ones. As our family has grown, my husband and I have had countless discussions about what type of child care is the best for introducing our children to the idea of community, peers, and decision-making.

If we hire a nanny, do our kids miss out on peer interactions that are vital for their development? Is it better for our children to be surrounded by their peers in a preschool or daycare environment? Read on for an incredibly insightful post from certified parenting coach and local mom Beaven Walters.

children need peer interactionAs parents of young children, you have many decisions to make during the first several years of your child’s life.

Cloth or disposable diapers?

Homemade baby food or store bought?

Co-sleeping or a crib in a separate room?

Return to work or become a stay-at-home parent?

There are so many choices before you and so much conflicting information to wade through. As modern parents, you want to make the best choices for your children that can help them on their road to maturation and reaching their full potential in life.

When it comes to choices around socialization, you may be weighing the options of a daycare, a nanny/nanny share/au pair, a preschool, toddler classes, or playgroups. You may fear that if you are a stay-at-home parent or if your children are in the care of a nanny or au pair during the day, they may not have the same opportunities to become socialized as compared to children in daycares or preschools. However, that is one fear I hope to alleviate because the reality is that peers and peer friendships are not the key to your child becoming socialized.

Socialization Defined

From a developmental perspective, socialization is actually about being able to interact with peers and society in general while holding on to one’s true self. Renowned developmental psychologist, Dr. Gordon Neufeld states:

“Premature socialization was always considered by developmentalists to be the greatest sin in raising children ….[w]hen you put children together prematurely before they can hold on to themselves, then they become like [the others] and it crushes the individuality rather than hones it.”

Peers are Not the Key to Early Socialization

Simply put, the assumption that young children need opportunities to interact with peers to learn social skills is a myth. It is actually your child’s relationships with the nurturing adults taking care of them that are the key to socialization.

If you think of it in terms of puppies, would we expect puppies to potty train each other or teach each other to learn not to bite, to sit, or come on command? Of course not. Similarly, children become socialized not through their peers but through the adults to whom they are attached. Children seek to be like and follow their primary attachments. These attachment figures provide the societal blueprint for the children in their care, which again is the key to the first part of becoming a social being.

children need peer interaction

The second key to socialization, holding onto one’s true self even in the presence of peers, blossoms when children feel so securely attached to the adults taking care of them that they are at rest from seeking attachment from peers and are, thus, rendered free to play, explore, learn, and grow.

Additionally, it is important to recognize that too much exposure to peers could also hinder your child’s social development. In the book, Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, Dr. Neufeld and Dr. Mate address a problem in modern society they coin “peer orientation.” This social phenomenon refers to children who become more attached to their peers than the adults taking care of them.

Children who are peer oriented are very difficult to care for or teach.

When a child is peer oriented, they will put up all defenses towards others who attempt to step between them and their primary attachment, in this case peers, and power struggles will commence. Furthermore, if a child’s self-worth is tied to peer acceptance, any rejection or exclusion could be catastrophic. For the peer attached, the drive to belong and to be like one’s peers supersedes the drive to differentiate oneself as a separate being. Thus, the maturation process is halted and a relentless pursuit of belonging and seeking attachment commences.

children need peer interaction

Should Daycares/Preschools/Early Learning Classes be Avoided?

It is important to recognize what daycares, preschools, and early learning classes are and what they are not. As previously discussed, they are not a means to socialize your children.

So, does that make them something to avoid altogether? In my opinion, no.

One positive that can come from participation in preschools and classes is community. In today’s society, many parents live away from their families of origin and feel a lack of belonging and connection. Stay-at-home parents and professional caregivers like nannies and au pairs can feel isolated and alone because they lack a village. Participation in preschool and classes, like music classes, movement classes, gymnastic classes, etc. can be a great way to expand the attachment village for families. Clinical Counselor and author of the book, Rest, Play, Grow, Dr. Deborah McNamara states:

“While facing disconnection and isolation may be part of everyday parenting experiences, there is much that can be done to cultivate and create the supporting cast that families need.  The role of a parent is to give their child a village of attachment to grow up in. The role of the village is to support the parent in being the answer to their child.”

In situations like daycares and preschools, teachers can become nurturing attachment figures and a valued part of your team.

In conclusion, as with every aspect of parenting, the decisions you make around your children’s care during their early years is personal and reflects your own values and your family needs. My hope is that I have relieved pressure you may be feeling to expose your child to peers at a very young age as a means for socialization. Rest assured that you are what your child needs to reach their potential as a social and well-balanced individual.

Beaven Walters is a certified parenting coach, a mother of four, and a former teacher, having taught in public schools for ten years. She currently works through Northwest Family Therapy as a parent coach, supporting parents as they find more fulfillment, intuition, and confidence in their parenting journey. To learn more about her practice or to contact her, please go to http://www.northwestfamilytherapy.org and follow her professional Facebook page.

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