297. Solitude and/or Company

Sometimes a child wants to be alone. We all do sometimes, don’t we? Please don’t take it personally; it may have nothing to do with anything you’ve said or done. Company is important to most people, to different degrees, but there are times when enough company is enough. I live alone now, and though there are times when that gets lonely, so far there are more times when solitude is exactly what I want.
So when a child is alone, it’s best not to assume that there’s something wrong with that. A little probing may do some good, but some children who like lots of solitude are tired of all the probing they get from adults. They’d really rather be left alone, and if you watch from a distance, you may notice that a child you were worried about is actually enjoying solitude. Maybe you remember your own isolation (I remember mine), and you think you identify with some poor little kid who’s alone. But maybe you have it wrong.
I know we human beings are supposed to be social animals, but I think that’s one of many biological imperatives that should be taken with grains of salt. For sometimes better and sometimes worse, we’ve transcended our biological destinies in many ways, and I think one way is that some of us social animals need some space now and then. In fact, some of us really do want lots of it.
Let’s say seven year old Sigmund is sitting next to a tree, playing an imaginative game. Along comes a teacher, who asks why Sigmund doesn’t join one of the groups, or play with Douglas, who is also alone. After a brief discussion, the teacher finds out why: Sigmund is having fun alone, and doesn’t want to join any group, or Douglas. It’s no reflection on Douglas or the groups; maybe Sigmund will join them some other time.
Of course, there are children who are alone and don’t want to be. Maybe they’re feeling left out, or shy. There are all kinds of things that could be going wrong. A child’s isolation may be a symptom of these things, and maybe shouldn’t be ignored. When teachers probe, that may be why they do it. And sometimes that probing reveals important information that ends up being useful in helping children start to make important connections.
But sooner or later, there has to come a point when a teacher decides that maybe things are already the way they should be – that Sigmund really is okay, and will, in fact, be even more okay if the teacher would bug off and let him do his thing. Besides, isn’t it about time to pay attention to poor Douglas?

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