When a mom is considering putting her child in daycare, or explaining her reasons for doing so, one of the most common things I hear is that her child or children need the socialization. (The other big reason I hear is that daycare gives a stimulating, educational environment that their home cannot provide, but we’ll get into that next week.) Being homeschoolers, this is also a question that I get asked a lot about my older children. We have addressed the issue of homeschool socialization before on the blog, but today I want to focus on the socialization of kids who are younger than school-age. Do they need socialization? Do they need peer contact? If so, how much?
Without reservation, the answer is yes. Children need friends, just as adults need friends. However, this need for friends does not start until somewhere in their third year of life. Two babies having a play-date means that their moms sip tea together, while the babies eye each other warily from their perches in bouncy seats. Once a baby hits his first birthday, a play-date turns from just watching each other to pulling toys out of each other’s hands. At their second birthday, children are generally better at playing side-by-side without stealing toys, but it isn’t really until their third birthdays that children move from playing next to each to playing with each other.
The reality of socialization for young children is that they do not need it regularly until around kindergarten age. Until this point, making friends in other social situations where mom is present are plenty to fulfill a child’s needs. Usually, this would happen as mom gets together with her friends. Moms tend to gravitate toward other moms with similarly-aged children, simply because they have lots in common. This is a very natural way for child friendships to form. Being in a church body is another natural way for children to make friendships. Siblings also provide plenty of socialization, and frequently having older siblings to play with is better for a toddler than having peers. An older sibling will understand that the toddler really just wants the block tower to be built so that he can knock it down. This kind of play can provide fun for both children for hours.
Peer contact is important. But for a young child it is not as important as contact with a parent…It is not a reason to send a child to day care eight or ten hours a day. Prolonged contact with groups of other children can be frightening and confusing. Mom and Dad and brothers and sisters are the center of a young child’s life. Contact with them is crucial. (Dreskin, 177)
Full time daycare does not provide this positive interaction with one’s peers for the younger set. A small child removed from the comfort and familiarity of his home environment will view daycare with hostility, and making real friendships there will be hard. A room-full of two years olds will not be children developing meaningful relationships, but instead will be a scene of controlled chaos while childcare workers practice zone defense to keep the children from killing each other.
As we talked about last week, small children primarily need their parents for social interaction. This is where they learn how to love and be loved, and forming solid peer friendships will not happen until the parent-child bond is secure. Weakening the parent-child bond by putting a small child in day care will only hamper his ability to make friends as an older child. Do not use the idea that small children need peer socialization to weaken your own bond with your child.
Dreskin, William and Wendy. The Day Care Decision. New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc., 1983.