I don’t know what it’s like in other cities across the country, but here in Los Angeles, CA, when you become pregnant one of the first things people ask you is “which Mommy and Me group are you signed up for?” I know some of you may be thinking, Dr. Lisa, you must have written that wrong. You probably meant that this is a question people ask AFTER you have the child. But no…I wrote it correctly. In Los Angeles if you don’t sign up while pregnant you most likely will not get a spot in THE Mommy and Me group that EVERYONE goes to…
Some may ask, “Do I really need to attend a Mommy and Me group when my child is 2 months old? What’s the point? It’s not like they are going to be making friends.” And that is a completely true and understandable statement. For about the first 6 months of your child’s life a Mommy and Me group is really for the parent. It gives them a reason to get out of the house, to commiserate with other parents going through similar experiences, to begin to feel normal again.
But these groups are also where your child’s social emotional skills and social engagement skills develop. As you and your child attend these groups weekly, a routine develops. Children begin to learn what is expected of them in different social situations. And believe it or not they actually begin to recognize people from week to week. My daughter is currently 19 months old. We attended a Mommy and Me from the time she was 2 months until she was about 10 months. At that time we stopped the group, but a couple of the moms and I continued to see each other weekly at my office for a ‘play date’ (of course it helped immensely that my office is a pediatric therapy clinic…those kids had a ball exploring!). The kids did not play with each other, but they explored each other and their environment in a safe space with other kids that were of similar size and age. And while the kids played the moms chatted.
We stopped doing these groups on a weekly basis when the kids’ nap schedules all began changing…around 12-14 months. But every now and again we’ll get together for ‘play dates’. And again, while the kids don’t play together, they get excited to see each other and feel comfortable around each other.
This is really the goal for children under the age of 2. At around 18 months, a child’s goes through a big shift in their cognitive skills. Suddenly they really become more consciously aware of themselves and how they are separate from other people. Children can then begin to demonstrate more empathy and understanding of how others feel. My daughter has recently begun to hug her ‘friends’. She still doesn’t interactively play with them, but she gets excited to see them and has no problem being herself around them.
Realistically, for about the first 2 years of your child’s life their friends will be the children of people that you choose to socialize with. Will these people be lifelong friends? Maybe; maybe not. At this young age it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that they are continuing to develop a sense of self and beginning to develop social skills.