On any given day my 5-year-old runs out of school at lunchtime and bombards me with requests to go eat at a friend’s house, or have a friend round. If he had his way he’d spend his life bouncing from one play date to another with a bit of school attendance thrown in for good measure.
It took me months to adapt to his daily frenzy of social activity planning. My eldest son has always sat firmly at the other end of the social activity spectrum; he’s an introverted highly sensitive child. At age 5, home was his preferred place to be. He concentrates on a few close friendships rather than being everyone’s friend.
He was the toddler that hung back at the edge of the playground with me, taking his sweet time before deciding that playing in the sand pit didn’t pose any risk to him.
He was the child that stayed on the sidelines at the mother and toddler group we attended; he was more than happy to play alone and observe, not remotely drawn to join in.
He was the new school goer that kicked and cried for weeks before accepting that school was to become a compulsory part of his day.
He was a homebody having his roots painfully transplanted.
He was the child that would turn down a birthday party invitation, struck with fear at how busy and stressful it could all be, despite knowing that it would be fun too.
As he got a little older we introduced the idea of activities outside of school. He panicked at the idea of joining a local boy’s soccer club. Judo lessons were a wash out. He freaked out at the idea of unknown places with unknown people.
Growing his social circle was just never high on his priority list. Sometimes, over the years, I worried. I worried a lot. Sometimes I gave him a gentle nudge but mostly I learnt to just let him be.
It was only when my middle son started school that I truly saw the differences in the social needs of my children. I had to rein one son in as he threatened to exhaust himself rushing from school to one friend’s home or another almost daily, whilst my eldest son continued to show few signs in being interested in any contact with people outside our home or his classroom.
And then, just before the school summer holidays start, I stand on the playground and wait for my sons to come out of school for lunch. Both boys bound through the doors full of smiles and excitement, clambering to be the one to ask first,
“Mama, can I have lunch at…..” “Mama, is it ok if I bring a friend home for lunch?”
My eldest hands me a party invitation with unbridled glee, “We’re going bowling! I’m so happy I’ve been invited,” he exclaims.
He also brings home a picture his ‘girlfriend’ has drawn for him and hangs it strategically on his wardrobe.
The floodgates have opened. I notice with relish, as his age and self-confidence grow, that he’s less afraid to re-mark those self-imposed social boundaries. As he gets older he’s more comfortable with who he is, and aware of what he needs. He’s adapting his idea of friendship as he learns more about himself, as he accepts his sensitive nature and develops the tools to deal with the social situations that he once found so daunting.
As mothers it’s our job to worry, but sometimes we also need to let our children follow their own path and trust that they understand the journey they are making. If you are raising highly sensitive children, have faith.