A few years ago, my family went on holiday with a group of friends and their small children. One of the other mamas was watching my kids play and made an interesting comment – she observed that my kids were playing in the same way she used to play with her five siblings: together. My friend noted that she can tell the kids who come from a big family because they always play together and hardly take notice of the kids around them.
This summer I invited a friend and her children over for a swim. Her three kids played amongst themselves in the pool and, on the other end of the pool, my kids did the same. We laughed and said we were glad we worked so hard to get the kids together.
While I do a lot to encourage friendship and companionship between my kids, it does seem to happen naturally anyway. Watching my kids play together is often fascinating and by observing their interactions closely, an understanding is gained as to how this pack mentality phenomenon happens with siblings.
You see, playing together is easy. Siblings have a greater sense of the underlying social landscape when they are playing with each other. They “get” the social rules because they have been long established. There are no big mysteries – they know the pecking order, their individual roles, the secret games, the unspoken boundaries. They are all on the same page which means playtime is effective, fun and relatively conflict free. We can all agree that hanging out with friends who “get it” is more meaningful. Same can be said for the kiddos.
This is not to say that my kids are exclusive and don’t love their friends. I just find that sometimes at the park they’ll be so engaged with each other that they need reminding that a child has turned up alone and may be looking to join in. Often a kid who shows up solo just stands on the sidelines watching all the fun go down. Once I point out that another child has arrived, my children are quick to invite the child to participate. I remind my kids that it can be daunting for someone to break into a social group with their kind of history.
But don’t let me romanticize this – there are definitely times when I wish they were all just together for a play date. On those days, I fantasize that I could make the play date come to an abrupt end and send everyone home to their families!