the network for radical unschooling families
Hi there, I am new to this group, but wanted to post a question up straight away, as there is something I am really worried about. I have two daughters, one who is 9 and one who is 6. We live in France for most of the year, and the UK for the remainder. I have been unschooling for 3 years now, my eldest dd went to school in France for three years (kindergarten) until she was 6, but the youngest dd has never been to school. We know no other homeschoolers in France at this time.
The older dd is very sociable and meets up with her friends at least once a week. The younger dd is struggling to make friends of her own as invariably when a friend of 'hers' comes to play, they end up playing with the eldest dd. I have tried to invite one friend for each dd at the same time, but the youngest dd always ends up alone, with her friend playing with the other two, she frequently cries about not having any friends, when she sees her sister being so successful with everyone she comes across. My youngest dd adores her older sister and in the house she is bright and funny and confident, this changes when we are out of the house though; she hardly ever speaks.
The other day I managed to arrange to connect with about 8 other girls of two distinct age ranges, (a very rare occasion) and my eldest dd immediately went into the older group, so of course, the youngest dd tagged along with her elder sister and ended up sitting on the edge of the action, whilst the group of younger girls were playing happily by themselves - so she was unable to get into either group to get involved (and she was the youngest child there out of both groups, yet she stuck to the older group like glue).
Although she does not want to go to school, she feels strongly that she is missing out socially - she cannot speak french, unlike her older sister (who learnt whilst she was in school) and does not want to join any sports or craft groups here in France, she is extremely timid when in a large group of children. I am acutely aware that she has not had that time 'in school' to form her own friendships like other school children do.
I invite many children to my house to play and sleepover, but unfortunately the opportunity very rarely arises when she is invited back to other children's houses alone. I am at the moment struggling to find even one child to invite to her birthday party in a week's time who is not more interested in playing with her older sister and it really saddens me.
She follows her older sister in everything she does, but she is very sad about her lack of close friendships she has herself.
please, has anyone else been in this situation who may be able to help?
Sorry Louisa / Moderators! I've posted the same reply in two places. So I've removed the irrelevant part of my reply below to this thread...
Hi Louisa. Re your worries about your youngest daughter and friends in social settings, is this regardless of language spoken / which country you're in? Could it be that the speaking-French / integrating-in-French is the issue, or do you think it's 'something else'?
I mention this as (a long time ago!) I spent a year of my degree course at a French-speaking University in Belgium. Whilst my French was otherwise 'good enough', I was there with two close friends from the UK, both of whom were completely bilingual French/English. We spent most of our time together, along with our Belgian friends, and somehow I found that I let my 'usual personality' get squashed, partly by my perfectionist streak when it came to speaking French as well as everyone else was in my company. I also found it immensely difficult to put across who I was personality-speaking, in my 2nd language. This was exacerbated probably by being with two friends who had no issue with this whatsoever, being bilingual!
At the time I'm sure I would have been described by English friends as being social, extroverted, confident and humorous, but I'm quite sure my French-speaking friends wouldn't have seen me in the same light. Possibly the opposite! In hindsight, I think I would have still struggled in some ways, but it would probably have been a better move for me to have gone to a French speaking University without my bilingual friends. I think I would have asserted myself much more, and felt less pressure to be 'as good as they were'. (In fact, I know this was my mistake: I lived in Belgium for several years outside of Uni years - without my bilingual friends - and had no issue conversing in French without the performance anxiety!)
Whilst I'm sure some children jump straight-in with languages that aren't their mother-tongue picking up the new language osmotically, maybe others that have a more serious / perfectionist streak hold back? Especially if they're around a much more confident and fluent sibling / friend?
I guess one acid test is this: is your youngest much the same around English speaking friends when you're back in the UK? (Especially after a few 'sessions' of being able to get to know others gently, in her own time?) If so, are there any ways in which she can improve her French - in a way that works for her, and of her choosing - without pressure to 'perform' socially? (I expect you've thought of these ideas already, but in case not, how about some short French 'lessons' / games - if she actively wants this and can cope with it - on a 1:1 basis? Asking a single French speaking girl of her age-group round just to spend time with her speaking French one week, perhaps if they can swap and try speaking English another week?... Maybe it would help your daughter to see a French 'friend' learning English in this way? Watching childrens' movies in French? etc.)
In our family, we have a very socially confident and extroverted 6 year old son (when it comes to children, at least). And a much more introverted 3 year old daughter. Both get plenty of opportunity each week to mix with other home educated kids, and several unschoolers too. My daughter has had people around her in this way since birth, but she seems to prefer her own company to mixing with other children. (Granted, she's still very young, but my son was far more interested in other children at her age. I can see a difference in their social preferences.) For now at least, she's aware her brother loves playing games and being involved with his friends, but she doesn't seem to be unhappy or frustrated with not being the same way. (Of course this may change...). I mention this, as I expect it would help your youngest and you if you're able to shed more light on what exactly is frustrating your daughter. The language issue, and / or something else...?
Have you tried arranging play dates just for the younger girl? Away from her sister? It sounds like she doesn't have as much "interpersonal intelligence" as her sister, or else learns about social situations in different ways - so in company she trails along and falls into the older girl's shadow. I'm inclined to think part of the problem is that she's looking at her sister thinking "that's how its done" when she can't actually Do what her sister does - she may very well need to watch a group of people for a good while before stepping in and starting to socialize. But her big sister is creating a kind of template she thinks she needs to follow - just like if her sister learned to read in a way which didn't work for the younger girl. The more she thinks she needs to do the same, the more of a failure she'll feel.
She follows her older sister in everything she does, but she is very sad about her lack of close friendships she has herself.
Another thought is to actively look for an older child or teen, or even an adult to play with your younger daughter - take her out, away from her sister and do things together. That sort of thing is helpful to a lot of kids who don't mingle well with their age-peers. It could also be a good idea to talk about the ways in which people are different and make much of her skills and accomplishments which are Unlike her sister's. Right now, she's like a fish measuring herself against a bird.
I am acutely aware that she has not had that time 'in school' to form her own friendships like other school children do.
She could easily run into exactly the same situation in school, being an outsider while kids with more interpersonal intelligence easily collect comrades and attention. Schools very much "reward" girls like your older daughter, kids who socialize easily with age peers. It's important for you to look for ways to help your younger daughter see her own real abilities.
Thanks for your comments!
Hi Tracy, you know, at the moment it is not the language that is the problem, I think it is actually lack of 1 on 1 contact with ANY child that is the problem. I am arranging for both of them to be looked after by an older french girl a few times a week, and she will read to them and speak solely in french to them, but I know that the youngest would never want to be in a situation where she was 1 on 1 with a french friend without her sister around just quite yet, but I am hoping that will change when she is ready. She wants to play with/have a special friend for herself and I feel that I am failing her as I have been finding it impossible to find a girl who is of her age and who can play without the older one around.
I spoke to some of my friends today and told them how I was feeling and it really is down to me to try and arrange for them to go their separate ways when it comes to playing with other kids. I guess I have to be stronger at 'inviting' my children round to other people's houses, asking for favours more often, at the moment I seem to be doing endless favours for others hoping that one day I will get some return for my efforts, but so far, not much joy!
The ideal situation would be when one friend comes home to play with one of them, the other goes off to play with someone else. I find it very challenging trying to make this work in an ex-pat community esp. when all the kids have very heavy schedules (v. long school days and homework every night) and really don't see the need for lots of socially activity out of school. I cannot believe how little school children's lives allow for down time out of school, it is practically zero!
I agree with you Meredith, she could run into these problems at school, and I actually remember my eldest when she was in french school feeling very isolated (and that WAS a problem with the language at first, as she stuck very closely to a little english boy and therefore didn't really integrate properly with the others), and I think it also is probably a question of age.
I have never thought of an older child taking the youngest one out for activities, that is very interesting, I will look into it.
I know that both my children have what many other children do not have and that is a sibling as a best friend, regardless of the three years difference in age between them and I love how well they get on with each other. I hope that this kind of confidence in the act of friendship will pull my youngest through when she eventually gets out into the big wide world.
I hope that this kind of confidence in the act of friendship will pull my youngest through when she eventually gets out into the big wide world.
She is already in the world, though, and in her real world, her sister is more personable and fun for other people. That's not her fault, but its something she needs help negotiating. In the longer term, seeing her sister "stealing" all her friends has the potential to erode the relationship. And at some point the elder could become resentful, too, of the little sister always tagging along. Unschooling doesn't automatically prevent those kinds of dynamics from developing.
I am arranging for both of them to be looked after by an older french girl a few times a week
Can you alternate days with each girl while the other does something special with you?
Yes, this would be a good plan, I see where you are coming from Meredith. I must say when I spend time with either one of them them by myself it seems to always be special.
I had not really thought of the long term implication of our current set up, but I can see where resentments could come up in the future. It seems like relationships with others outside the home and giving each child their own time to fully express themselves as individuals are a thing that must be respected and handled with care. I will work on it over the next few weeks and see if I can set up something that works and gives both of them some space for themselves and other friends if they so wish.
Hi, I haven't had time to read all of your post, or the replies, (sorry, bedtime, I'm tired...) but I wanted to let you know there are homeschoolers and unschoolers in France, some maybe not too far from you. I will PM you my email address, if you want to tell me what town you live in I can ask my friends in France if they know anybody there.
Thanks Bea, will do......
I have a similar issue with my 6yo son (the younger of my 2 children), though probably for different reasons. Brodie loves playing with other children, but takes quite a while to warm up to others, so he finds it hard to make new friends and doesn't have any special friends of his own whom we see regularly. A couple of things that are working for us and one thing I plan to do to ...... the things that are working: he has a 16yo cousin who lives nearby who now has 1 day free a week since starting college in September; Tom has been coming over to play with Brodie a bit on those free days and I am hoping to make this a regular arrangement this year as Brodie loves playing with him and they have a great time together. The other thing that has happened recently is that both Tess & Brodie have really got into the computer game Minecraft and play that with other children while chatting on Skype. They both have a few friends on there whom they love chatting to. (We found the friends on the Unschooling Gamers list). It's not the same as friends in real life, but it is giving them a lot of social interaction and they are building friendships there, so it is a good addition to meeting friends in person.
The other thing is that I've realised Brodie needs quite a lot of help from me at the moment to make new friends, so I intend to help him more with playing with other children when it seems like there is someone he would enjoy playing with - I'm struggling a bit for how to phrase that without sounding like I will force him to play with others and I need to get off the computer, so please read it as not coercing or forcing and only doing this in appropriate situations when Brodie is interested! I have done this a couple of times and it's worked well, although it hasn't helped with finding any special friends for him to meet up with regularly so far, which would be the ideal.
Something I found helpful with Mo wrt getting to know new friends was to set up the first playdate or two so the kids could do something in the same space w/o having to interact too much -like watch a movie or go to a zoo or museum, or do some kind of planned activity. That gave Mo a chance to get comfortable without the other child being hurt or confused when she didn't want to play right away.