Getting kids ready for playground politics is anticipatory socialization for office politics.

How Do Parents Practice Anticipatory Socialization?

by Kevin McLeod

Whenever you imagine yourself interacting with others in a role you don't already fulfill, you're practicing anticipatory socialization. Children do it when they play roles, be it cops and robbers or playing house. Teenagers do it when they begin thinking about dating. Adults do it when they think about how they would work with others at a new job. As a parent, you do it when you think about how to communicate with the people you'll encounter -- doctors, teachers, your children's peers and your children's friends parents.


As a parent, you've already practiced anticipatory socialization at many stages of your life. That makes it easier in some ways. You have plenty of experience with teachers as a student, so meeting one as your child's parent isn't so daunting. It's still a new role for you, because the teacher isn't an authority figure in relation to you anymore. You're both adults, and you'll be working with the teacher to discuss your child's motivation, performance, temperament and socialization -- different issues, different relationship. Mentally walking through how you'll do it, adjusting to this new situation -- that's anticipatory socialization.


For teens, who are experiencing a lot of change and growth, anticipatory socialization can be a source of anxiety. They're at a time in their lives when peer acceptance is a big deal, and the effects of rejection can be devastating. You can help your teen during this transition by sharing your own experiences with socialization at the same age, especially the funny mistakes you made and challenges you overcame. They'll learn you've been there and done that, and they'll realize their situation is not one of a kind. This helps teens think ahead more clearly.


Children do anticipatory socialization as play. They're imitating adult behavior and seeing themselves in adult roles, and as a parent, watching this in action can be an eye-opening experience. Children only see the surface of actions and may not fully grasp motivations. This is an opportunity to teach about appropriate roles and explain why adults do what they do, both bad and good. With your involvement, a child's anticipation becomes play and education.


A toddler's world expands as exposure to people beyond the family becomes more frequent. This can mean play dates with other children in homes and at playgrounds. As a parent, you can make this change easier by explaining that some children are playful and some can be aggressive. Discuss scenarios like conflicts over toys -- role play with your child about how to react when someone doesn't want to share. Anticipating the socialization process with a toddler can prepare her for many more relationships as she grows.

About the Author

Kevin McLeod has written about culture, technology, social change, employment and the deaf community since 1985. He has worked with high school students, psychiatric patients and editors, all fine sources of chaos and drama.

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