by Laura Berthiaume July 27, 2021 3 min read
If you’ve ever talked to a Montessori teacher or read any books about Montessori, you’ve undoubtedly come across the phrase “Observe the child”. This is almost always a Montessorian's first step in solving any parenting challenge.
But what does this mean?
It means we objectively observe our child, removing any preconceptions and judgements, so we can see our child with fresh eyes.
We watch what they do, how they do it, and look for any new changes or struggles, in order to help further their development.
To help develop social skills, we can use this exact same approach.
After close observation, we may notice that our child is struggling to initiate play with their peers, just watching the other kids but not feeling confident or sure exactly how to join in. We're looking for signs they want to join in but seem reluctant to do so.
If it seems that they're just not interested in playing with other children, they may not be developmentally ready for co-operative play and that's totally fine! More on this below.
Once we make note of what they’re struggling with, we can offer some guidance and help build their confidence in social situations.
Although it might seem a little strange to teach your child how to socialize, it really is just like teaching them how to use a fork or put on their shoes.
So what does this look like in practice?
First, let me take a step back to explain the development of play in young children. Skip past this section if you just want the advice, just note that it’s a quick read and worth understanding!
There are 3 types of play phases that children between the ages of 2-4 go through:
A shy or inexperienced child might struggle with transitioning from associative play to cooperative play. They might be lacking the confidence or experience to join in or contribute.
If your child seems to want to play with other children but gets stuck on how to do that, you can help with some gentle facilitation.
What does this look like?
In the classroom during a social period, like outdoor playtime, a teacher might notice that one child is pretending to build a house. If there was another child nearby watching and showing interest in this, they might say something like, “Oh look, Eric is building a house. Sarah, you love to use tools too. Why don’t you grab a hammer and work on hammering the roof.”
The teacher would go back and forth like this, facilitating their interactions for a few minutes, until the children took over. At that point the teacher would fully step back.
Doing this helps a shy child build confidence in social situations and also teaches them how to take that first step in joining in.
You can do this at the park, on play dates, or with family.
Help with the introductions, encourage them to find a common interest in play, and, when they've started playing, step back.
Just try carefully observe (there's that word again 😉) and ensure both children are interested in playing.
Some days your child just might want to play alone.
Sometimes the other child might just want to play alone. If that's the case, you can simply explain to your child, they just want to play by themselves now, helping them to understand that it's nothing personal.
The more you do this, the easier it will become for your child to begin doing this on their own.
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