One of my ambitious projects (dreams) this year was to create a playgroup at my house for Prince No. 4, who is now 20 months. This idea was born from the best selling book, Raising Boys by psychologist, Steve Biddulph. He writes,

‘What we are about to tell you next might cause distress to some parents. There are past readers of this book who have stopped reading right here, angry and confused. But the job of a psychologist is to tell you the facts, so here goes.

If at all possible, a boy should be cared for by his parents or a close relative (apart from the occasional trusted babysitter) until age three.

Group care of the institutional kind does not suit boy’s nature below this age. This doesn’t mean that boys put into long day care at six months will all become psychopaths, but it does mean that they will be more at risk. And, thanks to a number of large scale studies around the world we know that this ‘risk’ can take three forms. Firstly, increased misbehaviour, especially in the form of aggression and disobedience. Secondly, anxiety – to a degree that  might even harm development (this is measured by using stress-hormone tests). And thirdly, their relationship with you may be weakened: studies have shown that boys are more prone than girls to separation anxiety and to becoming emotionally shut down as a result of feeling abandoned. They seem less able to hold in their minds that Mum (or Dad) loves them, and is coming back. Also, a boy of this age may deal with his anxiety by becoming chronically restless or aggressive. Experienced daycare staff talk about the ‘sad/angry boy syndrome’ – a little boy who feels abandoned and anxious, and converts that into hitting and hurting behaviour. He may carry this behaviour into school and later life.’

It didn’t feel good reading this paragraph. Especially as I’d send my other Princes to main stream play schools from the age of 2 1/2, and I think, looking back with that blessed clear 20/20 hindsight vision, I didn’t do the right thing by them.

Of course I feel consumed with guilt. How could I have forced separation on them from such a young age, before they could express themselves, when they were still in nappies???? Of course I hadn’t known better. I hadn’t read Raising Boys, and they needed to be stimulated and socialised and further I needed my own time as well. So I couldn’t’ have done it differently under the circumstances. Guilt is therefore useless, and I just need to suck up the play therapy bills.

Fourth time round, I’m an older mum (finally) and I’m more aware of a one year old’s needs. I’ve now read Raising Boys, and I am determined to do things differently. Prince No. 4 still needs to be socialised and stimulated and I still need my own time. The issues are the same but the solution is a novel one. Create my own play group with a teacher and six toddlers who come with their caregivers. It’s a simple solution that my sister in law came up with when her son was a toddler (after she’d read Raising Boys), and it really works.

Since the first of February Prince No. 4 has been going to school in his play room. Thanks to our very creative teacher he’s made a caterpillar out of a toilet paper roll (with a lot of help of course) after reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar (I love, love, love that book). He made a Valentines card for us using a potato stamp cut into a heart. He’s made a beautifully messy finger painting, whilst learning about his body parts. More than that he’s learning to interact with other children in a safe way. Learning not to hit or throw, and luckily the other children are with their nannies who protect them from the flying puzzle pieces.

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The most amazing thing for me is that I heard my nanny chatting to him about the caterpillar as she prepared him for his bath. She was loving going to school in the morning with him. For her it was a whole new world of fun, educational possibilities. A complete win win.

Of course living in South Africa, nannies are a blessing, and such help and support is not readily available throughout the world. The village lifestyle, where it took a village to raise a child, as the African proverb goes, doesn’t exist anymore. The reality is most mothers have to work, some have to send their babies very early on to creche. I think it’s a very hard reality in our world today, and I do wonder at the effects that it has on our children. On the other hand I also believe in the resilience of both children and parents. We all cope with what we’re given. Our challenges are our growth. So babies sent early to school do turn out fine. I don’t think there should be guilt as we as parents do the best we can with the resources that are available to us.

Opening a playgroup for Prince No. 4 is doing the best I can. It’s a blessing to be proactive with newly found knowledge. It’s wonderful to be innovative and brave enough to try new projects. (My dear hubbie has had to chew his words as he wasn’t very keen on my playgroup idea.) There will always be parenting challenges along the way, but please God the main thing is to keep learning, growing and most of all doing. So anyone who wants to begin their own play group, even if it’s for an afternoon a week – I say go for it. (My group only runs three mornings a week and is super flexible according to the children’s needs.)