How social is socially acceptable when you are a toddler? Are the standards any different when you are 14 months old, 14 years old or 44 years old? Your inclination may be to answer yes, but I am not so sure about how different the expectations really are.
From the very second babies are born, we are already expecting them to "perform" and begin to judge their every coo and every cry. If the baby's eyes are frequently open, she is aware and alert with a very keen sense. If she has a strong grip, we are impressed with her strength and skill (in our mind it has nothing to do with an involuntary reflex inherited from our primate ancestors.)
As the baby grows, we as parents are proud of our little one's ability to replicate moves like a trained monkey and often put on little shows of imitation to impress others. Let's be honest, how often do you tell your little one to mimic your moves to reap the reward of a friend's applause or praise? We all do it - clap Isabella, show Grandpa how you blow kisses Isabella. It is downright adorable when our wee little tots show comprehension and wave bye-bye back to us, or blow us a kiss.
When our baby begins to walk, we expect and encourage our child to play with others - even if he/she has never seen them before in their short little life. By nature, humans are social creatures. But this does not mean that we are always going to be the life of the party, or immediately offer a warm reception to strangers. Yet we expect our children to enter the social scene without any trepidation or desire for solitary downtime.
I know a little about this subject because I am speaking from experience. No, I don't remember my mother pushing me to play against my will whilst my heels dug into the ground in protest, but I can tell you that as a mother of a tot what my expectations are for my daughter. I unrealistically expected my daughter to be the belle of the ball, the social butterfly in her daycare class. Waddle in, share a sippy cup, play together with a toy, wipe a boogie on each other's shirt - what's the big deal? Seems easy, right? When you are not personally in the situation, it would appear to be easy peasy. But I know if I walk in a room full of strangers, it takes me a minute -sometimes longer - to feel ready to mingle. Yet I expect my daughter to be able to always "turn it on" when she walks into class or a party. After observing my daughter in her classroom setting, my husband informed me that for the last hour of daycare, my daughter simply walked around the room in a circle ... by herself. A small group of children played with each other while my daughter isolated herself from the pack. Concerned that my daughter could quite possibly be anti-social (at fourteen months old), I immediately sent a long, worried text message to one of her teachers, and had a lengthy conversation with the other teacher the very next morning. The teachers assured me that my daughter was both sociable and normal, but would observe her actions nonetheless. At the end of the day, the report card was an A+, my daughter was socially adept for her age ... or any age. They explained to me that throughout the day she played with her peers, but just like adults get tired and restless during the last hour of the workday, Isabella gets tired of being at daycare. The concept was so simple, yet I couldn't see it until it was explained in terms I understood. At 4 o'clock, I am ready to go home and get listless waiting for the 5 o'clock bell to ding. When quitting time comes, I don't want to talk, I just want to go. Well, the same goes for my little girl.
I have seen my daughter play well with other children, but have realized that when she doesn't want to immerse herself in the group, I don't need to make excuses for her, or worry about her being anti-social. My daughter can be tired if she wants to, or just be aloof if she desires. Just as I can sign off of my social network or power down my phone, she can hide behind my leg. Now I wonder, would it be socially acceptable for me to cling onto one's leg when I don't feel like being outgoing? My inclination would lean towards no for that answer.