Can I Play With You?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all get along? It doesn’t have to be so complicated. If we took a lesson from children, meeting new people and making new friends would be as simple as walking up to someone in the park and striking up a conversation.

“Can I play with you?”

These five words have probably led to more social interactions and temporary friendships than all our “adult” activities combined.  And these five words stem from the very simplest of human needs: the need for social connections and interactions with others.

Children learn from adults and each other by something called “social referencing.” It is really quite simple. I see you on the slide having a good time. I think that if you are having fun on the slide, I would probably enjoy myself as well. I see that you are smiling and as such, I assume you are friendly. Then comes those aforementioned five words, and the rest is history.

So, what happens when things get mixed up, and children do not get good cues from social referencing?

Check out the Baby Still Face Experiment. In this brief lesson on human interaction, you can see what happens when small children do not get positive cues from others. When mom stops responding to the baby’s attempts at social engagement, the small child becomes extremely distraught. This experiment is a good example of how important social interactions and cues are to others, especially children.

So in our busy world, it is important to remember that children are relying on us to learn how to engage with others. We can teach positive, or we can teach negative by the way we interact with our children and with other adults. Think about this the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, or is rude to you in line at the grocery store. You are always in the role of a teacher when you have children with you.