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When Yonatan was five, I took him and his toddler brother to a coffee shop to meet relatives he had not met before. Within minutes of our arrival, he and the two elderly ladies were engaged in a conversation. I then took my toddler and went on a couple of errands, letting the three of them have a nice visit. I returned 20 minutes later to find them discussing home schooling.


"He makes a lot of sense," one of the ladies said to me, "I am convinced about home schooling, except," she added with concern, "What about socializing?" "What about it?" I asked. Strangely, these ladies didn't see their own interaction with the boy as socializing, nor did they notice that his younger brother was participating in the social gathering as an active listener as well.

If a child is not introduced to the concept of peers, he connects with people of all ages, learning social skills all the time.

How Children Learn Social Skills?

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In one of my workshops, a mother summed up her childhood experience of sharing by saying: “Every time I got a candy, I had to share it with my sister. Mom said it was nice to share, but I was sure it was bad because I was always left with half the candy.” Whether sharing food, toys, or the use of the slide, the result of adult-directed sharing often leaves a child with a sense of loss or a diminished experience — and not with joy. Children’s authentic generosity shows up in areas that we often don’t notice or don’t approve of. They assume that guests can stay forever and don’t see why they should leave and they see food in every home as their own. They share clothes and beds easily; they love giving gifts, hugs, and love.

Children are generous, and they also like to keep certain personal things and experiences to themselves, just like adults. Therefore, I use the word “sharing” to describe what adults wish that children would share.

There are children, like your neighbor, who seem happy to share toys or food with another child. This can shake your confidence in yourself as a parent. However,...

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Our son Yonatan came home last Christmas from the theater and related an observation. On the way from the theater to the lobby he noticed that parents were instructing the children to ask the Santa Claus for candy with a "please", and after getting the treat say "thank you". Yonatan went to the lobby and was surprised and puzzled. He found that the children indeed said "please" and "thank you", but that their parents came along and took their own treats, saying nothing.

"The parents of these parents must have told them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, yet they didn’t seem to learn it." He said. "Do you think these children are also going to stop saying "thank you" when they grow up?"

What do we expect a child to learn when we tell him: "Say thank you to your friend"? Most parents believe that the child will learn to be grateful, and to express her sense of gratitude. But do children learn these things by being told to do them? How did we feel as children when told to say "thank you"? When did we really develop a sincere sense of gratitude? Did saying "thank you" before we had the feeling to match the words make us grateful? Or did we develop a sense of gratitude later on in no regard to those instructions? Is it possible that some of us feel resentful when needing to thank someone, share, or apologize, because as children we hated doing these things?

Maybe we are dealing with our inability to trust. Is it possible that gratitude is not likely to be felt by a child or at least not in the way adults feel and express it? Could it be that when childhood needs are fully satisfied, gratitude will naturally develop? Perhaps we need to allow children to observe gratitude, generosity and kindness, rather then teach these behaviors to them.

What do they learn by being told?

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