The third characteristic of temperament is sociability. Sociability describes how children approach social situations and interact with other kids and adults.
Some children are hesitant around people they don’t know. These kids are described as “slow-to-warm-up” kids. They need extra time and support from parents and caregivers before they feel comfortable enough to interact with new people. These children are often happy playing on their own or with just one familiar friend or adult. They may even prefer hanging out with you more than anyone else!
On the other side of things are the “glad-to-meet-you” children, who approach new people – both adults and children – eagerly. These kids tend to seek out new connections. Even as babies, they engage newcomers by smiling, cooing, and looking them in the eye. “Glad-to-meet-you” kids often project a sense of openness and ease, which elicits warm, positive responses from those they meet.
Take a minute to think about your own children or the children that you care for, where do they fall in their sociability level?
For a child who likes to take it slow, you’ll want to think of yourself as their safe home base. Try letting them begin any introductions on the safety of your lap or by holding your hand. Communicate positive feelings toward others with nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language – your child looks for these. You can also suggest that new people take it slowly when they interact with your child. Ways to do this include letting them know some of your child’s interests beforehand or providing them with toys or books that your child knows and likes.
Whenever possible, keep your “slow-to-warm-up” child well-informed so they can learn what to expect in new situations. Books about meeting new people, going to a new school, or other encounters with “the unknown” can help with this. Showing your child pictures of the people they will be seeing can also help them to prepare and feel more familiar with them. Just remember, don’t label your child as “shy”. Labels can stick and aren’t helpful to your child. Instead, just explain to others that your child just likes to take things slowly.
When it comes to “glad-to-meet-you” children, you’ll want to provide many opportunities for social interaction. However, be ready to step in to provide a helping hand at times. This can be necessary to resolve an argument or soothe hurt feelings, and ensures that time spent with peers is safe and enjoyable.
Watch for well-intended overenthusiasm, too. Children’s feelings of excitement about being around other children can be so strong that they end up knocking over another child with a big hug or even biting another child if not given enough attention. You’ll want to help your child learn to express their excitement in less physical ways. For example, make a game of taking turns hugging each other to help them learn what feels good and what is too rough.
Protective and Risk Factors
Many parents comment that their slow-to-warm-up child is too clingy and well, too slow to warm up. These children are actually demonstrating a protective factor, as they are less likely to fall vulnerable to ill-intentioned strangers. The risk factor would be that these same children may avoid new and useful experiences that can aid in their development, since they are slow to accept change.
Glad-to-meet-you kids are generally considered easier to most people, because adults immediately think of the positive protective factor: their ability to ease into situations and meet friends easily. However, these children’s sociability also puts them at risk and vulnerable, as they are often not wary enough of ill-intentioned strangers.
- Fostering Healthy Social and Emotional Development in Young Children Tip Sheet
- Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children by Michael Thompson and Catherine Grace is a great book that can help from infancy through adolescence!
- A Parent Toolkit on Pre-K Social Awareness Tips
Bronte Nursery. (2013, Nov) Bronte Nursery. [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.brontenursery.co.uk/