Socialisation: What’s The Big Deal?

Children in school
Socialisation. It’s a simple concept – the idea that if you place your child in social situations often, they will become socially confident and adept at communicating and relating to others – but it’s a point that generally causes some tension. Especially between parents who may have differing ideas.

As a homeschooling family, the misconception of socialisation is something we are faced with on a regular basis. I have lost count of the amount of well-meaning acquaintances who have subtly (or not so subtly) expressed their opinion and concern that preschool and school are necessary to ensure that a child is adequately socialised.

I know that many people will disagree with me here, but I’m going to say it anyway – I think the whole socialisation thing is mostly bullshit.

Over the years, it has been suggested to me that the reason why my Monkey can be anxious in new social situations is because he wasn’t socialised enough. The fact is, if I had “socialised” him any more, we would have never been at home. Up until Squish arrived and we were too busy to be heading here there and everywhere all the time, we attended a different mother and baby group almost every day, and the days when there was no groups, we would see friends.  He was *plenty* socialised. My youngest son, however, has been to baby groups just a handful of times and is a far more confident and outgoing child than his brother ever was.

My conclusion: Either the socialisation had the opposite effect than it was supposed to, or it made absolutely no difference to my children’s’ confidence because all children are different.

It makes sense that allowing your children to experience a variety of different social situations, with different children and doing different things, will help develop their confidence. But do we really need to be dragging ourselves and our kids out of the house every single day to various groups out of fear that we will inadvertently raise socially inept little hermits? Our grandparents generation didn’t do that – they just got on with their lives, and their kids came along for the ride. Did our parents’ generation have a chronic problem with shyness and social anxiety? Were they incapable of dealing with their peers?

I would go as far as to say that, with some particularly sensitive children, the constant stimulation could cause more harm than good, at least in the short term.

I think, like everything in life with children, there should be balance. To be honest, I think that I probably get more out of mother and baby groups than either of my children do. Being able to talk to other grown ups is the highlight of my day, sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, the kids enjoy the groups too – my usually socially anxious preschooler now dashes straight into toddler groups and plays with other children without so much as a backwards glance these days – but he certainly wouldn’t miss them if we didn’t go. Sometimes we won’t go to one for weeks at a time, and neither of them have any ill effects from missing them.

For me, socialisation looks like this: It is going about our daily business in town. It is talking to the taxi driver or to the elderly ladies on the bus. It is chatting to the shopkeepers when we are buying our bits and pieces. It is attending the once-monthly La Leche League meetings. It is Monkey’s weekly session with the childminder, where he gets to meet different children. It is playing at our friends houses. It is playing in the park with whoever happens to be there. It is attending the odd mother and baby group. It is life. Normal life.

It makes me laugh when people suggest that by not sending my children to school, I am not preparing them for the social aspect of life. If you ask me, there is no situation less socially normal than a bunch of kids who are all the same age being plonked together in a room for long periods of time. They will never be in that situation at work, when they travel, when they settle down with a family, or indeed whatever they happen to do.  Moreover, children aren’t even *allowed* to be social – truly social – during lesson time. Real social time happens at breaktimes, and at specially allocated times during lessons where the subject of discussion is chosen by the teacher.  My point is not “school is wrong and bad”, what’s wrong is making people believe that the social aspect of baby groups, preschool and school is an absolute necessity for healthy development – it’s not.

I am not for a minute judging anybody else’s choices. If somebody wants to send their children to school, it is none of my business. To each their own. However, if you are reading this and you want to homeschool, but are worried about how it will impact your child socially – fear not. Not all homeschooled children stay at home all day. Homeschooled children go out and about, they go to clubs, they go to extra curricular lessons like music, martial arts and dance, and they even do these things without their parents present. It’s important that we have a realistic view of homeschooling if we want to make an informed decision about how we choose to educate our children.

Furthermore, all children are different. Some children really do thrive in the busy, stimulating environment of mum & baby groups, and later, the structured environments of preschool and school. The point is that this kind of environment isn’t right for every child, and you know your child better than anybody else.

Lets forget about homeschooling now – however you plan to educate your child, there really is no need to feel the pressure to take your kids to every group that’s going. As long as you don’t stay in the house all day every day, as long as your kids get to see other people – any people, not necessarily large groups of children the same age as them – they will get plenty socialised.

What’s your view on socialisation? Do you attend mother and baby groups?


image: State Records NSW @ flickr


  1. says

    We have decided not to send my older daughter to preschool again this year and already we’re getting flack from family and friends about not socializing her enough. I know that being around large groups of children stresses my daughter out, and so I try to avoid it. People tell me constantly that she needs to learn, to toughen up. Um, she’s not even four yet. Why does she have to be tough already? The face is my child does well with one or two friends at a time, and as her parent I want to respect that for the next few years, until she’s ready to take on more. I wish people would just trust my judgement more, know what I mean? I’m her mother.

  2. Helen says

    I wouldn’t necessarily say socialisation at school does prepare you for the social aspect of life, the social aspect of life mainly revolves around spending time with people you like and who like you. I suppose integration would be a better word.
    Having had a sibling who was bullied at school, which has affected her whole life, I am not entirely sure “socialisation” at school is always a good thing.

  3. Teri says

    THANK YOU for mentioning martial arts as a great opportunity for socialization. I got more positive socialization out of my martial arts classes as a young teen than I did out of the eight years of school I spent up to that point.

  4. Rachel says

    I have been thinking on this recently, I think your spot on. Socialization is defiantly important but it does not have to be done in a structured or enforced way. With small children watching parents happily interact with others is a great lesson.

  5. Naomi says

    I don’t think that school is necessary to being/learning to be social. I went to school, and I’m not social. I even had a fairly large group of friends from 7th grade on, but that’s because everyone in that group knew I was shy, and didn’t push me to be social too often. They just dragged me along, and I happily watched what they did, for the most part. I got lucky. I have no idea if that will happen to my kid, if she happens to turn out shy (she’s only 1).

    My point though, is if you know that you won’t be good at getting your kids to those things were they will be socialized, then school is a good alternative. I’m currently planning on sending my kids to charter schools (if I can get them in), because I’m not a social person myself, and I worry that I won’t be very motivated to get them out into some kind of social situation everyday, or even most days. But, if it turns out that school is not the best place for them, I will bite the bullet and homeschool. I know I could get them out more, it’s just easier this way.

    • says

      I totally agree; as a social person myself, I have no worries that my kids will miss out on social interaction at all. However, if I were the main breadwinner and my wallflower husband was the full-time carer, I would probably prefer my children to attend school at least part time because I know that socialising doesn’t come naturally to him as it does me.

      I hope everything works out for you, re the charter schools :) homeschooling isn’t for everyone – hell, I don’t even think it’s for me sometimes, lol – we all have to do what is best for our own families.

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