Sunday, February 07, 2010

Social skills

As unschoolers, we hear the occasional question about how our kids have enough social outlets and opportunities without going to school. I'm sure we'd hear them more often if we didn't have such a busy social schedule hanging out with our unschooling friends! I think many people hear 'homeschooled' and picture terribly shy, inept kids with no idea how to navigate the larger world. I've not blogged or talked much about it before, but I will today.

Part of why I don't often talk about social exposure for kid is that it's not something I worry overly about. I was a very shy child for reasons too myriad to blog about. Will was very shy around adults as a child, tho he did well with kids. He and I shared the same caution around others, and eventually became more confident in social settings. Andy's never been shy, never met a stranger in his life; Dan's more cautious and quiet. I'm confident we'll all find our own way socially.

Dan, having just turned 9 and with very outgoing older brother, has only recently begun to navigate the bigger world more independently. There have been a few social incidents in Dan's life in recent weeks, which have led to conversations about social convention and responses to taunting, and why people behave as they do towards others.

A few weeks ago Dan was out in our driveway, playing catch with a good friend who lives two doors down. This friend, J, is a nice boy a couple of years older than Dan, and attends public school nearby, tho for the past few years he was homeschooled. Gary and I heard banging on the carport gate and loud yelling, so we ran outside. Dan was trying to scramble over the gate, shirtless. The kids scattered as Gary showed up and Dan & J were upset and shaken. Turns out a group of several neighbor boys from farther down the street had come by, started chasing our boys around the front yard, pulled Dan's shirt off him and were spitting bb's at them. We talked with Dan about what he could do next time to feel safe, and we've kept an closer eye since then on neighborhood goings-on.

This past Monday, a playmate lobbed a parting shot at Dan, calling him an obscenity. I only learned of it later when he asked me why this child had said that to him. I asked him if he'd done anything to warrant the insult, and he assured me he hadn't. Andy corroborated his account. I told him that since he'd done nothing wrong, he needn't take it personally. The other child was likely just having a difficult time and it was much more about that child than about Dan. Andy, who thinks of himself as a peacemaker and mediator, wanted very much to talk with the other child about what happened, why the remark was made and smooth things over. Dan was adamant about leaving it lie. I explained to Andy that, while I understood his desire to sort it all out, I'd prefer he respect his brother's wishes to say nothing. He agreed he could do that. Dan was bewildered by what was said, and likely won't forget the incident, but felt no need to push the issue. Maybe if the child involved were a closer friend, it would matter more to him. It was more like just one more bit of info about human behavior to file away and ponder a bit.

Last evening Dan told me that earlier in the afternoon, while he was standing in the driveway, as Gary walked over to talk with a neighbor, after playing catch together the boys had come back again. This time, no bb-spitting occurred (they're too sneaky for that) but taunting was dished out. G, the talker for the group, said "you suck at baseball." Dan shrugged. Then he asked Dan, "why do you wear the same clothes every day? How come your jeans have holes in them? Can't your Mom afford to buy you new ones? Your family must be poor." When Gary started back across the street, they headed down the street.

Gary, Dan & I talked about it. We commented on some interesting things to Dan. Does the other boy play baseball? How does he know Dan sucks at it? And the clothes -- those kids go to the local public school, where they wear uniforms. The same clothes every day. And last night, Dan wasn't wearing the same clothes as the day before. Did this kid even know what he was talking about?

We talked about reasons why sometimes kids feel a need to insult other kids. They don't feel powerful or 'good enough' and making fun of someone else makes them feel bigger or better. Gary said, "Hey, you GET to wear the same clothes every day. You're home so you're allowed to wear your comfortable, torn jeans." We talked about how powerless those kids might feel in their lives -- they're told what to wear, where to spend their days (at school), likely not allowed to have long hair, and so on. Everyday at 7am, while Dan is waking up at his own pace to a warm bed and leisurely breakfast, those kids are walking to school in the cold, wearing clothes someone else told them they have to wear. No wonder they're unhappy and unkind.

I pointed out that I've found that people, kids too, are more likely to be mean when we're unhappy, or have unmet needs. This brought things around to the earlier playmate incident, and the one a few weeks ago. Dan wanted to come up with responses, so we talked thru those.

Dan said he might borrow a line from his buddy, Forest, who once told a taunting kid "thank you!" and "I know -- isn't it cool?" when called a name and told he was 'stupid'. Said with a big grin I can just see on Forest (who, for the record, is one cool kid and also homeschooled).

I don't know that Dan really needs a reply, or if he'll use one. I was very happy to find he felt no need to get back at those kids, and he wasn't angry or hurt, just perplexed. It's completely unnatural for Dan to see insulting and threatening people as a desirable way to treat others.

What I do know is, if the behavior of our neighborhood kids is an example of social skills learned at school, we'll pass.


Ren said...

Torn jeans are IN...silly kid. ;) Sorry they're having to face such meanness though. It truly bewilders my kids, who see no reason to act that way.

starrling said...

"Homeschooled kids don't get enough social interaction." That's all I ever hear from people on the subject. I think that can be true if the parents are not doing enough to ensure that their children get out and make friends. I know a girl who was homeschooled and she is extremely shy, hardly speaks, and can't look people in the eye. She was brought up on a farm all by herself with no siblings and she's only had one good friend all her life. And she was not homeschooled for the same reasons you have done so. She was homeschooled because her parents are very religious and were afraid to allow her any outside influences. Homeschooling was not the problem, but her parents' laziness and anxiousness about letting her get more time away from the secluded farm. It's all about how much time homeschooling parents put into really giving their children a well-rounded atmosphere. She is the example of homeschooling taken far off in the wrong direction. To me, homeschooling is about giving your children freedom, not boundaries. You've set an excellent example of what happens when you do enough local networking; you discover there is a whole community - a family - of other people who think and feel the same as you do.

Sylvia said...

yes, Robin, for us unschooling is about making their world bigger, not smaller and more frightening.

Deb(bie Debbie Doo) said...

i love that you're helping him understand that unhappy people are often mean people - who knows - he may end up spreading much joy in his world as a response to this understanding :) said...

Hi there just stumbled across your blog! I have 3 kids and they have been in the public school systems and we have decided to home school them starting this coming school year. I was homeschooled myself and I never had a lack of social interaction! My neighbors next door have 3 kids as well who they home school and I know about 25 to 30 other kids who do the same and their parents always make sure to plan events and get togethers for the kids. Kudos to you cant wait to start this adventure myself!