Last week, Nathan came up to me in a flurry of hugs and questions. It sounded something like, "Momireallywantmyfriendtosleepovercanipleasepleasemomireallywanthimtosleepover?" I had to tell him no, unfortunately. I explained that a sleep over is a special activity and that I would be happy to have his friend over another day.
I picked him up a few days later and discovered Nathan's friend was 5. I was a taken aback a bit. I truly thought that Nate's friend was his age. I was disappointed, too, but I couldn't really verbalize why at the time. I figured he had finally made a connection and that he would have a friend to spend sometime with. There was a let down when Nathan had gravitated towards someone younger. Nathan tends to play with children who are younger. He feels safer with them. He also knows that they won't judge him. They're all on the same page socially for Nate, so for him it is the perfect social foil.
I started to think why I was judging Nathan. What is more important? Having Nathan being social with kids his age, or having Nathan being social period? I think I was struggling with the age part. I don't want him to be social stunted. I know he still doesn't have a good friend at school that he can hang out with afterschool. He does have quite a coterie of kids that he is friendly with inside of school, so I feel comfortable about that. However, I have fears that parents of these younger children will look at Nathan strangely. I know it looks a little unusual for older kids to play with younger kids. But when I processed it, I felt a bit of my own fears and trepidations creeping into my judgement. And my judgement was flawed.
I shouldn't punish or judge Nathan for not making friends his age. I was forgetting that Nathan is making connections with people. That is more important right now than him fitting into some "norm" that either society or I may put in place because I'm afraid of what others might think. Nathan is sweet and kind to kids, of all ages. He does take it easy with the younger ones, almost like a big brother. (Perhaps this is why he keeps asking me to make a baby?) He shows respect and has manners. He is friendly and outgoing. I wasn't celebrating that and praising his efforts. I was stuck in this age rut. I have since learned the error of my ways.
I'm more focused on him continuing being socially engaging and honing those skills with every kid. He'll be friends with people who are younger and older than he is some day. There is nothing wrong with being a friend to someone younger than you, as long as you are friendly and respectful. Nathan is and Nathan does. That is the ticket to success in my book.