Q.Our bright, happy 2-year-old has a good disposition, has exceptional verbal skills and is outgoing and talkative with adults -- even strangers. The problem: He is miserable around other children.
The only child of a stay-at-home mother, he has been in play groups of six or seven kids several times a week since he was a few months old and also has had occasional one-on-one play dates and other social activities. He invariably becomes whiny and then angry when he's with other children, however, and soon he's begging to leave. If we don't go, he sometimes throws toys or hits me, which I find so upsetting.
I know my son isn't hungry or tired in these situations, but he might be bored, since he acts worse when the toys don't interest him.
He gets particularly aggravated when he has to share a toy or play close to another child and he backs away warily if a child tries to hand him something or hug him. He also gets annoyed when he goes to a friend's house or into a classroom and he must stay with the other children instead of wandering around or opening cupboards.
He also begs to leave the other children when we are hosting a play group at home, and plays happily and alone with the toys in his room. And yet he never asks to play alone when adults come over without their children.
I know sharing and playing together don't come naturally at this tender age, but his peers are beginning to interact now, and I see them play side by side, imitate each other and hold hands. I don't want my son to be an outsider.
He is scheduled to start preschool this fall and I'm afraid he'll be miserable in a group setting.
A.Your little boy is smart, but he may not be ready to play in a group yet or to go to a preschool, either. Many 2-year-olds are not and they shouldn't be forced to move too fast.
Children not only grow and develop at different rates of speed; they also have different personalities and temperaments that affect every choice they make.
Although you may like to be with your friends and are probably always looking for more, you can't expect your son to be just like you. He was born to be distinct, just like every other child, and he can't be molded into someone he is not.
Instead, you and your husband have to figure out your son's temperament and then adjust your discipline and your guidance to suit it, as well as the activities you offer him.
Although almost every culture has tried to classify its people, the theories developed by Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, and Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas, the psychiatrists, are the ones that prevail today.
To Jung, people come in 16 varieties -- including introverts or extroverts -- while Chess and Thomas came up with nine types, based on the sensitivity, moods, distractibility, intensity, adaptability and other traits that make up the human temperament. As different as these theories are, they are perceptive and enlightening, and they will teach you to accept your son as he is, and not as you want him to be. That's the way to bring out the best in him and in any child.
Children who like to be alone are as normal and natural as the outgoing, gregarious ones, and they can be just as happy and well adjusted if allowed to go their own way.
Two books that explain the Jungian types best are "Please Understand Me II" by David Keirsey (Prometheus Nemesis, $15.95) and "The Developing Child" by Elizabeth Murphy (Davies-Black, $13.95), while the Chess-Thomas theory is well described by "Understanding Your Child's Temperament" by William B. Carey with Martha M. Jablow (Macmillan, $23.99) and "Understanding Temperament" by Lyndall Shick (Parenting Press, $13.95).
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.