Bringing up a child can be challenging at best. If you raise your children in a foreign country, where the traditions and views on child care are different to the ones you are used to, it can be hugely frustrating and confusing. Trying to find the “middle way”, bringing with you traditions from your home country as well as trying to adapt to your host country makes you odd in both societies.
About nine years ago, before my first daughter was born, I believed it was very important for a child to be able to socialise with other children long before school age. This might have something to do with the fact that my mother stayed at home with me until I was four years old. I was extremely shy when I started school and I can’t help thinking that perhaps I would have been a little less shy if I had had the chance to practise my social skills a little earlier.
So, I convinced myself that it was good for my child to start crèche at an early age, to let her socialise with other children. I thought I had found the ideal solution; my daughter started crèche when she was six months old and I worked part time. That way she would meet other kids, but we would also be able to spend some extra quality time together, compared to if I had been working full time.
Well, well. The reactions in Finland, my native country, were horrifying. People could not understand why I put my daughter in a crèche already at six months old. It seemed like child cruelty to some. The reactions in Belgium were unexpected. My paediatrician, for example, was of the view that it was very good that I could stay home so long with my daughter.
I was confused, but thanks to my membership in the Brussels Childbirth Thrust (BCT), I met other mothers and mothers-to-be who were equally confused, which helped me a lot. Some of course had a very strong view on what was right or wrong, but I realized that nobody had the perfect solution. Different nationalities have very different viewpoints on this topic and I figured out that I just had to find a way that was working for me and my family, without being concerned about other people’s opinions.
At the BCT, which is a centre for social activities for children and parents, I found an excellent place for socialisation. Not just for my daughter, but also for myself. During my six months of maternity leave I joined all sorts of clubs, classes and playgroups with my daughter. We had lots of fun and we made many new friends. But of course, a baby who is only a few months old does not socialise that much. At this early stage, my daughter’s “friends” were of course the children of my friends. Nevertheless, it felt good to be amongst people and we continued with play groups whenever we could even after I started working.
In the crèche my daughter had to find her own friends and fight her own battles. As she grew and started to talk, there were two names that constantly popped up in her conversation. By the age of two years old these two kids, a boy and a girl, had become her best friends. They then separated as they went to different schools, but we parents continued to organise play dates and each date was a happy reunion with hugs and kisses and tears when the play date came to an end. Today they are eight years old and they are still close friends. They seem to have an unusual tight bond (especially the two girls, who used to have “pipi-accidents” together, among other things).
Could this be proof that socialising at an early age can lead to a strong and long lasting friendship? What strikes me is that those friends are not the friends I made my daughter play with in a playgroup, they are not my relatives’ or friends’ children, they are a result of my daughter’s own networking as a little toddler.
With a bit more experience than nine years ago, and having a second daughter with a complete different personality, I am still of the view that it is very important for a child to be able to socialise with other children long before school age (especially in countries where school does not start until the kids are six years old or so).
If crèche is not an option, places like the BCT are worth gold. If you keep going to the same play groups and meet the same people you will soon see who your child prefers to play with. It is fascinating to watch babies and toddlers grow together, to guide them when things go wrong and to give them one of the most important skills in life – the socialising skill. So get your toddlers out there to socialise and mingle! They will need great networking skills all through their life and so many researches show that having a great circle of friends makes you a happier person.
I wish a happy social Children’s Day to all children out there!