5

My son is five. He calls greetings (quieter than he used to because they don't respond) to strangers on the street and talks animatedly and with children he befriended at the park. However when he goes to kindergarten he doesn't respond to classmate's or their parent's greeting and farewells. He says nearly nothing about kindergarten except he enjoys and wants to go. It is difficult for my wife to talk to the teacher as my son want to go at departure and there is line up to leave and no opportunity at all at drop off. He is also bad at talking me at home such as asking for stuff and goes non-verbals at times. We live in Japan so greetings are very important. The classmates seem friendly to my son.

Why is my son not able to greet to classmates who greet him and my wife?

My wife told me nearly no other children consistently greet other children at kindegarten.

4

I can't speak to the Japanese specifics, and I would suggest that that's probably quite relevant here; but in a more general sense, nothing is particularly surprising about what you describe.

Your son is in a new environment, and all changes in environment take time. For all but the most outgoing of people, changing jobs would mean they act significantly less social for a while, as they adjust to the new social environment. This is normal - you're learning what is appropriate and what is not.

For a five year old, it's far bigger of a change - as he doesn't have the context of years to realize people are mostly all the same, and environments are mostly all the same. So he is quieter while he learns to adjust to the new environment.

Some children will react differently - some might be more active, more outgoing, some will be quieter. But it's all how they learn to adjust. Give him some time - my son took several months to adjust to kindergarten, but by the end of the year he was as social as I could reasonably expect.

Over time, as he gets used to it, most likely this will fade and he'll act just as he does with kids at the park. But if it doesn't, you can address it as lessons to be learned, and teach him the importance of greetings - even trivial, unmeant greetings - over time.

At home, don't expect him to discuss his day with you as your wife might. Kids start to develop their own spaces from my experience, and it's normal for them to not really want to discuss school "on demand". Instead, let him open up to you when he wants to. He'll get excited about something and want to tell you - if you're constantly asking him, he'll not do that and instead consider talking about school a chore. I usually ask a "how was your day?" and then leave it alone; when I don't, and push harder, I get less back.

Do talk to the teacher, though, if you're worried about how he's socializing. The teacher can tell you how he's doing with the other kids, and should be able to give you any feedback that's useful for you. This should be a regular thing - check in periodically, not just a five second "how're things going" but a longer conversation, once a month or so in my opinion.

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  • He doesn't discuss with my wife either. He doesn't say much about any situation where his adults haven't experienced at the same time. He went to a trial English lesson at a small school and he said nothing about the lesson.He has been going to the kindergarten for a few months. And does talking to strangers on the street fit with no saying anything at kindergarten. – user2617804 Sep 16 at 23:18
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It is difficult for my wife to talk to the teacher as my son want to go at departure and there is line up to leave and no opportunity at all at drop off.

You've basically identified the solution here. It is part of the teacher's role to monitor children for discomfort or for childhood issues that concern the parents. Obviously pickup and drop-off are busy times, but the teacher should be willing to take some time outside of teaching hours to discuss your child with you, and to allay or respond to any concerns you have.

If you're struggling to do it in person, you could do it by phone or email. Alternatively, there should be a process for polite enquiry that your kindergarten can point you towards.

If they report that your child appears fine while there, the most likely explanation is that, having been separated from his parents all day, and having been through the intense experience of kindergarten, your son is exhausted and just wants to get home and cuddle his mum.

The best thing you can do is engage with the other children yourself. Your son will mimic his parents' attitude, so if you wish the children goodbye when they say greetings, he'll behave similarly.

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I used to be like this. I would refuse to talk to my parents about my day or indeed anything that I considered private. This was from my first days away from them - at school or being looked after by a relative.

Example

My father took me to see the doctor for some physical illness. I can't remember what it was or how old I was. The doctor asked me a succession of questions and I remained silent for all of them. My father said, "You should always say something when asked a question. If you can't say yes or no then say, I don't know".

The interview with the doctor continued and I answered "I don't know" to every single question. I also used this phrase for the next ten years in any situation where someone was quizzing me about something.

Mother: How was school today?

Me: I don't know.

Mother: Did you learn anything interesting?

Me: I don't know.

I also recognise the business about conversing with strangers. I have been told that I come across as charming when I meet people but this wears off later. The fact is that when I meet someone new, there is always something to talk about. You can ask what someone does for a living, what their interests are etc. After a while, unless you have something in common, the conversation dies. My interest in small talk is so low that I find it impossible to continue. I am like this even as an adult. The only difference is that I have learned to feign interest, at least sufficiently to be perceived as polite.

Suggestion based on my own character

If he is like me, your son does not see the point of greeting people he is not interested in. He probably perceives it a waste of his time and of theirs. He is too young to see it as being rude.

I suggest that you teach him a set of basic skills as a ritual. Lay out the precise words that he should say so as to appear interested and polite. Motivate this by pointing out polite ways to get out of unnecessary conversations as quickly and easily as possible. Maybe suggest some simple questions that he doesn't have to listen to the answers. Explain the formulae that other use when inquiring about him and give him some stock answers (but not "I don't know" like my father did!) that will appease them and shut them up as quickly but politely as possible.

Explain that if he learns these responses, he will get out of the situation much quicker and he won't have his parents nagging him any more.

Do some role-playing so that he can practise these moves.

Note

He may not have the same character as I do. I just feel an overwhelming fellowship and sympathy with him. I don't think my suggestions will cause any problems, whatever his personality.

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I think generally children take on how their parents behave. If the person, you or your wife, doesn't greet and chat with people from the class, he won't too.

But my experience is that although my child doesn't do it in front of me, he is very "popular" in the class and talks to everyone like he is the class monitor according to the teacher. I think he is just behaving himself (or shy) in front of the parents.

He is 6 this year and have been like that since young, most probably taking on his father who finds the slightest opportunity to talk to anyone beside or behind him.

I think you can start by showing him the way of greeting, saying bye and talking to his friends' parents. Then after some time, ask why is he not doing the same?

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One possible explanation (out of many) is that your son is faceblind; this is an inability to recognise individuals by their faces. Its only been identified comparatively recently.

Its one of those things that has a subtle but wide-ranging impact on social functioning; not recognising someone in a corridor seems trivial, but if you do it consistently people will assume you are not friendly. If the teacher splits the class into groups, then later says "everyone get back into your groups", the child has no way of recognising their group members. This is particularly difficult if everyone is in uniform.

On the other hand if your child finds a playmate in the park there is no problem with failing to recognise them.

I'm not familiar with Japanese society, but I would assume that an inability to recognise the person in front of you would make it impossible to give the correct formal greeting.

Edit in response to comment.

Obviously this is only speculation, not a diagnosis. You should read up on this for yourselves, and seek qualified advice if you think it appropriate.

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  • 2
    I neither see indications of this in this case, nor think it's appropriate to guess at medical diagnoses here. – Joe Sep 17 at 14:52
  • @Joe I disagree. I do understand the dangers of long-range diagnosis, but that is not what I'm doing. As I was careful to say in the answer, I'm pointing out one possible explanation. If it is not correct then there is no harm done. If it is correct then a great deal of heartache may be avoided (I speak from experience here, being faceblind myself). And I disagree that there are no indications. "Unable to greet classmates" could well be face blindness. – Paul Johnson Sep 17 at 16:05
  • The problem with "this COULD be the problem" though is that lots of things could be the problem; it's the "WebMD" syndrome, where people look at WebMD for "what is symptom X" and see "x cancer" or whatever and the other long list of bad things it could be, when it's probably just a stomach ache; thus causing lots of needless anxiety. – Joe Sep 17 at 16:21
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    Maybe this is a question for Meta: how strong a suspicion would you need before saying "ask your doctor about X"? In this particular case saying "see a doctor" would not be useful on its own because many paediatricians haven't heard about face blindness. – Paul Johnson Sep 17 at 17:42
  • @Joe I've posted a question about this on Meta. parenting.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1427/… – Paul Johnson Sep 19 at 15:46

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