Group functioning in your children usually begins at home, when your child learns to function as part of the family group. For the autocentric infant, this group involvement is minimal. Still, it is essential all family members relate to your infant. Although she has no perception of herself as a member of the family, older members of the group must perceive her as belonging. This includes, for example, all brothers and sisters, regardless of age. Two-year-old brother should be encouraged to talk with her, hold her with supervision, help give her a bath or bottle, and interact in many other ways. This begins a relationship beneficial to both. It is equally important for brother not to see her as an intruder or as belonging to Mom and Dad only. She belongs to him, too. Watch as your toddler becomes more involved with your infant and starts referring to her as “my baby sister.”
By the time she is a toddler, she is beginning to perceive she is part of the family; for example, she may be upset if left with a stranger, but not with her adolescent brother.
When your toddler becomes a member of the family as a group, she gains group status, rights, and responsibilities. For example, she may have some say about which programs to watch on TV, or which restaurant to go to. She also develops property rights (some things belong to her) and rights of privacy. In addition to rights, she acquires family responsibilities, like helping clean the house, cleaning up her own messes, and helping feed the cat.
Around the age of four, your child begins to develop other group identifications and involvements, usually first with other extended family, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins. Then playmate or friendship groups develop or your child may become involved in preschool or church school. By the time your child is six, she is developing multiple group identifications. She talks about “my friends,” “my class,” “my teacher.”
As her parent, encourage your child’s group involvement and participation and help her choose groups, but also recognize group participation is your child’s developmental task, not yours. You can talk with your child about any difficulties, but only after a careful, step-by-step process should you become directly involved in dealing with problems. Keep in mind your child’s judgment and skill in group involvement begin at a young age. If you do nothing to help your child with group participation until she is sixteen, it is probably too late to start objecting to her choice of groups or activities. This is an example of too little, too late.
On other occasions, parents abuse their powers when, for instance, they insist their child become involved in Little League, whether or not he or she is interested. Or they insist their children participate in certain groups despite their child’s protests that he is being treated unfairly. Organized sports frequently exemplify this problem. A ten-year-old girl joins a swimming team. She thinks this is a lot of fun, but the coach wants only to win swimming competitions. In this high-pressure situation the young child is expected to produce, sometimes beyond her physical and emotional abilities. Winning and competition have their value, but parents who push their child into these situations against her will are being abusive. You occasionally also see parents who want their child involved in every group or activity, leaving almost no free time to herself.