When we’re out and about, I often hear parents scold their children for striking up conversation with an adult. Other times, a parent will apologize to the nearby grown-ups engaging in chat with the little ones. I take a slightly different approach to these interactions – I allow my son to talk to strangers. In fact, I encourage it.
There’s a bit of a line to walk, of course. I can understand that not every adult is inclined to entertain my kid, and he’s still too small to pick up on social cues. So I stay aware of what my son is doing, and how those around him are responding, gently diverting him if they seem irritated by his chatter.
In general, I’m pleased when he tries to be friendly. Social skills are best learned through practice- so why not start now? Watching how others engage in different scenarios and trying them out himself are the best ways for my son to learn how to interact in society with politeness, friendliness and ease. I encourage him to order his own food in a restaurant, buy his own selections at the store, and allow him to greet strangers without interruption.
Aside from all that social practice he’s getting, he’s a little person who deserves to know that his thoughts are valuable, despite his size. Hushing him, apologizing on his behalf for being “bothersome” and shoving him aside are no way to create the self-assurance necessary to comfortably learn how to engage in the world.
Some of the ways I try to encourage my son to be sociable include:
-Encourage him to have care and concern for people. So much of polite social interaction requires thinking about other folks: How is your day? What is your name? Being overly self-aware instead of others focused can just add to debilitating shyness.
-Don’t interrupt or apologize while he’s talking. Instead, I let the exchange play out and correct any missteps in private with a whispered, “Did you say please?” after he’s already through. Disturbing the flow of conversation is distracting, and correcting him in front of strangers can be embarrassing for him.
-Lay the foundation at home. Even when we’re comfortable at home, I skip on the baby talk and speak to my son like I’d talk to anyone else. I expect him to understand and respond, and I show him that the things he says are valuable to me by listening and responding in return. I set an example, while giving him the room to practice and make mistakes.
Do you let your child talk to strangers? How do you encourage social development?
About Liz Moorhead
Liz Moorhead is a high school teacher turned work-from-home mom. An illustrator and writer, she blogs for a top wedding site and shares her own personal experiences on her blog Happy Sighs in between walks to the park with her toddler son - all just outside of Philadelphia.