Oh to be Kid Friendly

Hannah started "school" at 7 months old.  I was working full time when she was born and decided that daycare fit what I was looking for in our situation.  She had a nanny from 4-7 months until she got into the school I chose for her and then she was thrown head first into the school setting.  She was thrown headfirst and landed feet first.  She never cried when I left her.  She immediately found the parts of the classroom that interested her and learned to get along with others with ease.  As she got older, she found it easy to interact with other kids and adults.  She was friendly with people she was meeting for the first time.  On the playground she'd befriend anyone and everyone.  She has social graces that I envy. She's not shy, yet she's not pushy.  She's just friendly and welcoming to everyone.  I adore her for that trait.  A trait that I truly believe is innate but was enhanced in her case in the school setting.

Then there's Luke.  I stopped working before he was born and so I never had the need to send him off to be "socialized" at a very early age.  He's been literally attached to me since the day he was born.  I tote him around everywhere with me.  He doesn't have any of his own friends.  He takes a little gym class but is more interested in throwing balls around on his own or going up and down the slide himself than interacting with any of the other 15 kids in the class.  The only other person he cares to notice at the gym, is me.  Last week I took him to a new gym class and before we went into the actual session, he was playing in the general play area and he noticed something interesting about another little boy playing by him.  He walked right up to him without hesitation, stared at him inches from his face and pulled the little boy's paci from his mouth.  POP!  Luke looked at the binky for a few seconds, looked back at the boy, looked at me, back at the boy and then shoved it back into the kid's mouth.  The boy didn't react and his mother wasn't standing right there so if I hadn't been there to see it, it could have never happened!  But I shook my head in disbelief that Luke thought this was a totally normal thing to do.

This week while we were away on vacation there was a little girl 18 months old standing in the hallway of the hotel.  Luke ran up to her and said, "HI! Hi! Hi!".  The girl looked at him but didn't respond. "HI!" Luke shouted a little louder and closer to her face while flapping his hand up and down in the best waving motion he could manage.  Still nothing.  Not even a smile.  He ran a circle around her and popped over her other shoulder, "HI!".  She proceeded to run behind her mom's legs and peaked out at him from her new hiding spot.  He thought this was a new game and ran back over to her laughing, "HI!".  She shoved her face into the back of her mom's legs to block him from view and I tried to lure Luke away but he swatted at me for trying to ruin his new game.  He tried to push his face into the FRONT of the mom's legs to get through to the girl's face.  No luck.  I pulled at his arm saying, it was ok that she was being quiet (while the girls mom laughed and explained that she was just shy) but he pulled free from my grasp and ran back to her leaning his head against the girl's shoulder squeaking out a few more "Hi! Hi!  Hi!"'s.   He finally got frustrated by the lack of response and placed his hand squarely on the girl's chest and pushed her.  He pushed her!  "HI!" he said again, this time quite seriously. The mom stopped laughing and I decided to end the scene by picking him up into my arms saying, "No Touch, Luke!" and he looked over my shoulder at her and smiled and waved.  "Bye! Bye!" he shouted as we walked away.  No love match made there.  And I realized he needs a small lesson on how to make new friends (and how to play hard-to-get).

All of this makes me wonder when you should start "teaching" your child the "right" way to be friendly. If your child isn't in a school setting at an early age, how and when do they learn the ins and outs of making friends?  I'm not always good at the playdate thing so I don't have 20 month old kids chaperoned in and out of my house and I don't go to other houses often either.  It's actually one of my New Year's resolutions... to have more playdates.  To be less of a hermit in the comfort of my own home.  Stay tuned for my resolution post coming up soon... How much of "being friendly" is innate and how much is learned?

It also makes me think about how much of the instinct to be friendly is taken AWAY with socialization.  Wouldn't it be great if you could stay as friendly as you were at 20 months, going up to anyone and everyone saying HI and not caring what they looked like or what they'd think of you?  Just to BE friendly because that's your nature?  Hannah is super friendly to everyone but is starting to question why people aren't nice back.  Why not everyone wants to play with her.  Why someone at the park has no interest in her random story (that she tells 4 inches from their face).  It's not not enough to make her stop her outgoing, wonderful attempts to make new friends but I wonder how it effects her little 5 year old makeup.

I think I actually used to be friendlier.  I've become cynical in my "old" age and where I used to expect everyone to respond to my outgoing friendliness positively, I now am less trusting.  To me, there's nothing worse than being friendly and getting a "chill" in response.  So I now don't open up as easily or quickly.  I stand back, measure people up a little more.  I wait longer before I approach someone new.   I wish I could be like Luke and jump right in and without waiting for a positive response,  just keep it going, continue my rapport, but I can't.  I get my feelings hurt and am more hesitant the next time I'm in a similar situation.   Luke hasn't had "lessons" in making friends.  He watches his sister.  He watches me.  He is seeing what works for him, what he's comfortable with on his own.  He has had no training in getting his feelings hurt on the playground or in the classroom.  And it's so refreshing.  So innocent.  So raw and real.  I wish I could wrap it up - save it for him.  I also wish I could borrow a lesson from him and live like this for a day (or month or year).  Live the way that comes naturally to me and not the way I've been trained to live.  Guarded.  A little fearful.  Maybe I'll give it a shot.  I'll just need a few drinks to make it happen...


Jen said...

Isn't it amazing how different each child is, simply because of the circumstances of his/her existence? I think about this all the time, and I am continually amazed and sometimes saddened by the way sheer necessity shapes so much of my children's lives.

Corinne Cunningham said...

I know exactly what you mean, I've been given the "chill" after just trying to be nice way too many times that I'm getting jaded. It's tough. And it's hard knowing how hard to push the whole socialization thing at this age. Fynn took forever to be more social around people, we were in a mommy group for a while (don't even get me started on that) and it helped him, but drove me to drink (just kidding!).
Good luck! It'll all work out in the end, at least that's what I tell myself :)

TKW said...

I'm laughing here, because Miss D. was even more assertive than Luke. She would walk up to ANY kid, get right in their face/personal space and say "Hi! Me Daffne! Who you?" She especially liked to stalk much older boys, since she adored her stepbrother (9 years her senior) and assumed that all big kids would be as awesome as he was.

I cannot even tell you how many times kids just ignored her or had no response or gave her a look that clearly said: Eat Shit.

I'd like to say that school has refined her technique, but it hasn't really. She still wants to know every kid on the playground and give them a big group hug...whether they want it or not.

TKW said...

Meant to add: take the Mommyfriend thing slow...I am in full agreement with you and Corinne that MommyGroups are to be avoided at all costs...

As I've gotten older (and I'm way older than you, Miss Youngin') I tell myself that ONE good, true friend is all I need. Why are there so many weirdo crackwhores out there?

Lindsey said...

I think the friendliness is being either beaten or frozen out of me, too, as I get older ... I'm getting shyer and less outgoing. That's kind of a bummer. I think school, when they do go, will help with the socialization - it really will.
Meanwhile sometimes I think this little bloggy community is the safest place to hang out! :)

Anonymous said...

Such an interesting post, Becca. I hadn't really thought too much about this before, but I think that Big Boy might be more naturally introverted than I am - and that might explain some of the trouble I have understanding him at times. Whether at gym class, library time, or play group, he's generally happier on his own. It will be interesting to see what becomes of him when he starts school.

As for me, I am also disappointed when my friendly gestures aren't met with friendliness in return. It doesn't usually deter me though - and since I live in a pretty small town, friendliness is the general order of the day.

Unknown said...

I am laughing at poor Luke's courting, but I am also 100% with you on the social issues. My bigg'ns spent their toddlerhoods in a rural setting with only each other and adults for companions. As a result, they get along fine with adults and each other, but have had some difficulty travailing the social landscape at school.

I am hoping the littl'ns will be a little better prepared than their big sibs when they enter school.

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