Q: MY THREE-YEAR-OLD son does not want to mix with children his age. He refuses to go to kids’ birthday parties and throws a tantrum when we insist on taking him to one. I am rather worried as I plan to enrol him in a kindergarten soon. How do I tackle this problem, and how do I manage his angry outbursts?
A: Your three-year-old may lack the social skills to interact with others in parties and at play. This does not mean he will never socialise well with others at a later age. All he needs is a little help from the adults and lots of understanding. Three-year-olds have many fears. They may worry about how others treat them. Sometimes they are frightened of aggressive children.
Your son may not have enough social experiences with children his age. This can make it difficult for him to be around them.
You can help with early experiences in a group. Introduce one friend first. Don’t insist that he warms up to group play immediately. You need to find a friend for your son that is like him in personality, and work at facilitating their play together.
You can take your child and his friend to various settings and let them learn about each other. If your child can make it with one child in a group, he will learn more about how to manage himself, and the other child will help him enter the group. If your child has difficulty in sharing, you may want to explain to him in advance that no one will force him to share, and then you can help him with some ways of sharing.
Let him watch others first before getting involved in their play. Don’t rush him into joining in and be part of the group. He may need more time to adjust than others. When he makes a small step in sharing, acknowledge his effort with a smile or a hug. He needs to know that every small part he plays is important.
Sometimes when a parent has a different temperament from the child, there can be many parent-child conflicts. You may be active, extroverted and sociable, while your son may be introverted and shy.
You may think that parties are fun but your son finds it painfully overwhelming. When parent and child have mismatched preferences, the parent may respond inappropriately to the child.
Instead of helping him, you insist that he attends birthday parties. He may feel misunderstood and pressured. His temper tantrums are strong messages, telling you that he is very upset with the whole party thing.
Very active children play more appropriately when their mothers do not intervene much. They do not need their mothers to keep meddling with their play.
Conversely, less active children are able to play better when their mothers are highly stimulating.
Less active children prefer their mothers’ help. They also feel supported when their mothers show concern for their feelings. You must put your child’s feelings first. He will feel better when this happens and may be able to cope with party experiences.
As parents, we think we can predict what will happen to our children in the future, based on what is happening in the present. This colours our opinions, wishes, fears and expectations, and we fail to focus on the child’s true nature.
You dislike the idea that your son does not enjoy attending parties, and harbour negative thoughts that he will have similar problems when he attends kindergarten.
To make it right for your child and yourself, start paying more attention to your child’s emerging individuality. Marvel at his accomplishments and support him as he adapts to the environment and faces the challenges in everyday living.
Being shy is not going to stop him from successfully attending kindergarten. He can work on his shyness when he knows that there is nothing wrong with him. Let him know that he can take his time to warm up to new social situations. He should not be expected to warm up immediately to new people and places.
Before going to parties, you may want to spend some time talking about what works for him and what does not. Pay attention to his fears and let him know that you are there for him whenever he needs you.
At all times, relax and accept him for what he is. This way, he will find it easier to cope with unfamiliar faces and places.
Ruth Liew is an expert in early childhood education, child development, parenting, and child care. She is also an author and a columnist.