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Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Home Family Parenting Advice Social Models and Feedback—Good Parenting

Social Models and Feedback—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

We’re back to staying at home almost all of the time because of the rise in Covid-19 cases. I miss chatting with co-workers and customers, mostly about their kids. I miss people so much! And I know my kids do, too.

They used to take turns grocery shopping with me, but I stocked up before Thanksgiving, planning to bunker at home for as long as possible. We bought and cooked a whole turkey, even though it’s just the 3 of us living here. The grand meal we cooked lasted 3 days! We packed half the turkey in the freezer for later leftovers in a week or two.
How can we compensate for the social gaps in our lives?

One Of 3 Occupants

Dear OO3O,

I gather you’re a single parent, so your needs for adult conversation aren’t easily met at home. Likewise children often say that what they miss most about not going to school, although they’re schooling at home, is their friends. It’s just not the same.

As you noticed, a work environment provides built-in opportunities to connect with others with similar interests and experiences. You’ve connected with co-workers and customers who have something in common that’s important to you, namely your kids!

As this pandemic continues, you and your children must offset your social isolation while maintaining social distance.

Peers as Models

A “peer group” is defined as people with similar ages, interests, and roles. These are the people who face similar challenges, and therefor can give each other ideas of how to overcome them. We look to peers for examples of what we should and shouldn’t do.

This works in school when seatmates catch on to a new process for doing long division by watching a peer do it a few times. The same can be said for watching a friend shoot a long distance free throw. But the most important skills to “catch” by observation are social skills. Students learn social skills when a peer gives a reason to the teacher for not having homework to turn in. They pay attention when a friend negotiates with their parent for a sleepover on a school night. They copy behaviors between classmates, too. Making a friend, making an apology, avoiding a bully, attracting the attention of a “crush” are all actions best learned from a model by seeing whether they’re successful or unsuccessful.

The role of being a parent benefits from models, too. You probably have some peer parents whose attitudes and techniques get the results you’d like to have with your own children. And whose failures likewise register as important lessons for you. Maybe one shares how she clears her head to reset after work to enjoy a refreshing reunion with her children. Another might have struggled through a child’s academic challenges to ultimately find the perfect tutor who puts algebra formulas to a rap beat. Or maybe you admire a parent who, like you, economizes and strategizes to feed her family safely and well during a pandemic. The best peers are mutually instructive. The reason you get along so well with some of your parent peers may be that they hope to improve their parenting by learning from you! Let’s face it, there are plenty of parents out there, but your parent peers have been hand-picked.

Limited from interacting in person with your true peers, you and your children can fill in around less than satisfying text conversations by supplementing with peer models who are in books, blogs, and other media! During my early parenting years, long before the internet, I found people whose ideas on parenting were a good fit for me in books: Eda LeShan, Penelope Leach, and the staff of the Gesell Institute of Human Development with their year by year series starting with “Your One-Year-Old”,  gave me examples I could follow. Their suggestions respect the science of child development and the realities of parenthood, often with a dash of humor. A list of books recommended for single parents has been compiled by Mom Junction , or you might pick a parenting model from novels or movies to inspire you to keep on doing your best for your family.

Literature and movies can fill in for your children’s need for peers as well. Younger children have no trouble identifying with characters who aren’t even human, including farm animals and magical beings. Maybe you have favorites to recommend from your own growing years – with a main character whose experiences inspired you to imitate them. Pippi Longstocking taught me to walk into a room with confidence. Jo March, in Little Women was the second of four sisters, just like me, with much more in common between us despite her having lived a century before me. Help your children find virtual peers – characters in relatable circumstances with relevant challenges to overcome.

Commonsense media has recommendations of good movies, varying in age recommendations from five to eleven years. You and your children might discuss the characters, the situations in which they find themselves, and the actions they take, just as you help your children learn lessons from their real life friends.

Peers as Feedback
Besides showing us examples of how to act, our peers also react to us with feedback about our behavior, hair style, choice of friends, etc. Socialization is the process of shaping one another to fit the standards of the peer group. Most of this is very beneficial, teaching us to be thoughtful of our impact on others, and the subsequent consequences of our actions on ourselves. Our peers teach us when it is appropriate to be funny or serious, friendly or guarded, assertive or charitable with other people. Peers openly and honestly approve and disapprove of behaviors with their reactions.

Are your children texting, telephoning, and video chatting with friends? Try to keep these lines of peer connection open in these desperate times. Without intruding too much, your guidance may be needed to help your child understand how words can be misinterpreted in texts, how to politely end a telephone call at dinner time, or how to plan a mutually interesting topic – with show and tell items – for a video chat.

Until we can get back to playdates, sleepovers, and other mask-less interactions among peers, it will be hard for children to participate in feedback loops about their social behaviors. Adults may have less trouble navigating the pulls and pushes of our peers through technology-assisted communications though. We’re better at reading between the lines than children are.

With vaccines not expected to be available to everyone until, maybe, June 2021, this means we will have had over a year of social restrictions.

People need people. We just don’t need to be in the same physical space right now.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist  and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Read more of her Good Parenting columns by clicking here.

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