Family psychologist discusses the potential social and emotional advantages to both mother and child of participating in a playgroup.
Because raising children can be consuming in many ways, it is easy to understand why many moms, especially new moms, become isolated and exhausted. Just when socializing may be the last thing on mom’s mind, a playgroup with other moms and same aged children can be the best prescription for sanity.
Whether an informal gathering of friends and acquaintances or a structured mom and tot class is preferred, playgroups provide moms with a reason to leave the house with baby. It can give a potentially endless feeding, sleeping, crying, demand-filling week a structure and reason to get into street clothes and do something different. This can interrupt or avert any feelings of isolation or sadness that may be surfacing.
Playgroups also provide moms with social contact with adults who can stimulate parts of her mind that baby simply cannot. It can remind her that there is a personality in there, somewhere under all the milk and baby slop. It can give mom the important opportunity to make new friends and re-experience parts of herself that are perhaps currently being neglected, re-building feelings of competence and self-esteem.
Also, life with a new baby can bring so many questions and issues that parents cannot even anticipate, let alone resolve. Playgroups provide the social interaction, support, advice, and the opportunity to hear that others also struggle with their new baby or their toddler that can help resolve some of these questions. All this can have a very normalizing impact on mom, especially a new mom who may have difficulty judging what is normal for moms to experience. This may possibly lift any feelings of loneliness, sadness, and incompetence that may be brewing.
Probably one of the clearest advantages of playgroups for baby or toddler comes from any positive emotional impact the group will have on mom: If mom is happier, the child is happier. Any activity that lifts mom’s spirit even a little, gives her more energy and patience to deal with the seemingly endless demands of motherhood.
Also, playgroups provide mom and tot with a social environment for learning. Mom gets to experience her tot and herself in different and interesting ways and learns some of the limits and capacities of herself and her child. Knowing a child’s capacities and limits, as well as one’s own, is key to becoming an insightful parent. Having a parent who is more self-aware and in tune with the child is an enormous benefit to any tot. Parental capacities and guidance are more effective when informed by self-knowledge and understanding of the child.
Playgroups also help children develop social and communication skills. Although babies’ play is predominantly non-interactive parallel play (they do their own thing alongside each other), they begin interacting in rudimentary ways as soon as they become aware of other similar beings around them. First interactions typically involve touching, hitting, grabbing, pulling hair, taking toys, and other asocial actions that can be gently guided into more acceptable ones. As the child gets older, play gets more interactive and there can be many opportunities to guide a child through constructive social behaviors during a playgroup.
Although joining a playgroup is not the only way to obtain these benefits, it is certainly a supportive, productive, stimulating, and fun way for mom and child to learn together and interact in a social environment.