ViewPoint - Myth of Socialization's Benefits
B.G. Markstad - 21 January 2001
A Canadian mother and teacher. B.G. Markstad is a graduate of the
University of Calgary and has taught at the secondary school level
and has worked extensively with home-schooled children.
My Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have an empty cup and you pour water into it, it takes a
while before it is full. A child in my observation is an empty
container for feedback about how it fits into the world. It needs
input. When we spend time with the child and cuddle her, teach her,
reassure her, we fill up her cup with enough self-esteem and love
that she can survive.
We know that children who are not cuddled fail to thrive and they
We know that this drive to get reassurance goes far beyond
It is my observation having raised four children and taught
hundreds of others, that children cannot move towards being
other-centered, selfless, even to care about the welfare of others,
until their own needs are met, until their own cup is full.
It is only a full cup that can overflow and when we ask someone to
care about someone else, we are asking in essence for them to have
so much love that there is some to spare. This does not happen if a
child's cup is not full.
If we neglect the crucial first few years, reassuring the child
one on one that she is important and loved unconditionally, then
what happens is the child will try to fill her own cup. She will
tell herself she is worthy and she will act angrily to the world
that is not giving her her share unless she fights for it. She will
be aggressive and a bully.
That is if she has a will to live. If her cup is not full and she
has not gotten enough attention from her own perspective, the other
reaction is for her to choose not to thrive, for her to withdraw
into nervousness, anxiety, depression, unwillingness to try new
things, perpetual fear.
Both of those negative reactions are normal. They are a reasonable
reaction of a logical mind. If I did not get enough love I either
must fight for it or I must be unworthy of it. Yet our society does
not give such kids more love. The bullies it punishes. The
depressed it mocks. So they get reinforcement for their original
Right now there is a desire to let women breastfeed on the
jobsite. This would be a start. But feeding the baby milk is only
one of the bonding experiences that fill the cup. Babies suck on
soothers and toy with bottles and fool around pretending to nurse
because they are not always needing milk when they are sucking.
Sometimes they are needing reassurance and security. And that also
is part of mothering. It's filling the cup.
One sometimes hears that children will gain valuable socialization
skills if they are put in large groups very young. Let us examine
that. And let's not examine it from the point of view of an
adult, for whom this is a very reasonable, convenient decision, and
sometimes one that relieves financial pressures, renews marriages,
makes mothers feel rested. Let's look at it from the point of
view of the child whose cup is not yet full.
If the child herself is uncertain about where she stands in the
world and does not want to socialize, putting her in such groups
against her will has one of two effects. It may for the fighter,
help her be more of a bully. For the quiet one it may make her feel
neglected on a bigger scale. Here there are even more people with
whom to compete for attention.
What do adults learn from socializing? Wonderful things. We learn
about others' lives, new points of view. We learn news,
gossip, share jokes and because we choose who we socialize with, we
get affirmation of our worth. We come away from these experiences
enriched. We feel better about ourselves. We are able to continue
to be who we are and feel good about it. But let's look at
small children forced into groups. They are not sure who they are.
They have no news to share and they now are in crisis mode, having
to prove their worth to an adult who they do not know. Each new
caregiver presents the same crisis. The experience teaches them not
that they are worthwhile, but the opposite, that they are never
good enough and constantly have to prove themselves in a very
What do kids learn from each other? Since kids of the same age
have about the same skills, they are not learning new skills. We
have here the blind leading the blind. And given that, we have all
the negatives of peer group influence that teens can have. They
learn good habits if there are some -- like politeness, taking
turns, but they also learn and very dramatically bad habits like
pinching, biting, hitting, yelling, swearing. In fact since small
children are phenomenal mimics it is the dramatic tantrums that the
children are most apt to notice and very apt to pick up.
Socialization skills are important in society. I would never deny
it. Learning to share, to take turns, to sit still, to not
interrupt, to line up, to listen politely to others are all vital
for kids to learn and ideally before school. But my observation is
that to learn them one only need have one other person around- even
the parent or a sibling with the parent. To assume that such skills
are learned only in more formal groups is illogical. Social means
one with one other.
The danger is that if we put very insecure small children
together, children who themselves feel their cup of attention is
not full, then we are not necessarily going to end up with
other-centred, generous children at the end of the experience.
You cannot be loving until you have been loved. You cannot be
generous until you have been a receiver of generosity. You cannot
have food to spare until you are sure you have a supply adequate
for your own needs. These are basic survival instincts. We cannot
expect our children to thrive in the big world until we have firmly
based them in a secure love. We must fill their cup before we can
expect it to overflow.
Form | Social Development of Children
| Parenting the Next Generation