I've often thought that if you looked back at your five year-old self you would find all the answers that you're looking for.
A few years ago I taught a beautiful little boy for two years. He was quiet and not particularly social at three and a half. I have since come to understand that even quiet children become much more social between four and five, and so it is almost never necessary to be concerned about this before four years of age.
I was often advised to be concerned about this child because he was solitary, timid, and found it difficult to bond with adults at that time. I knew that his home life had been difficult. To me this was enough of a reason to justify his behaviours. I think it's so important to respond to emotional issues before looking for developmental ones.
I felt that this child was in desperate need of unconditional acceptance. I've never met a child I couldn't bond with so that was the easy part. His mum and I also bonded. She was in desperate need of unconditional acceptance too. She believed that her child was perfect and I believed that he was perfect, and that's how we approached everything.
I'm a big believer in physical contact with young children, but not all personalities like that or need that from you. Children's body language is clear on this, and should be respected. I bonded with this child by taking an interest in the things that he was interested in. When I had time I would sit on the a-frame next to him and he would tell me about the pick-up trucks, and the container trucks and the forklifts next door. To this day I wouldn't have known the difference between them if he hadn't explained it to me.
I often borrowed books from the library for the children. I would borrow books about trucks and tell him (on the quiet) that I borrowed them especially for him. Every child needs to feel that they have been picked out of the crowd, and I do my absolute best to find a way to do this for every child. Parents love to know that you've taken special care as well.
This little boy spent most of the second year constructing with Lego with his new best friend. The social motivation had come with age, and because by then he had learned to trust people. People questioned whether I should allow him to spend so much time on one interest and with one child. His constructions were impressive, and he was relaxed and happy. I went with my instinct and allowed him to make his own choices.
It's impossible (as an educator) not to question your decisions. You can never really know the end result. Fortunately, as his younger brother continued in care, I was able to follow up on his progress. His mum's feedback was consistent over the next couple of years. He was doing well at school, he was happy, and he had friends. I was so happy to hear this.
She also said that when he was not at school he would watch YouTube videos of complex Lego constructions and replicate them by himself. Imagine if we had stopped him from engaging with what he was most passionate about. How would this have affected his already fragile confidence? Imagine if we had not seen this child's uniqueness as strength. How much stress might this have caused his family? This stress would have rubbed off on him too.
I hope you will always look for the strengths in a person before you look any further. Unconditional acceptance can work wonders. I wonder what incredible things this little boy will grow up to accomplish. I wonder if he will look back at his five year-old self and find the answers. They were always there.