Only children used to get a bad rap for being loners, brats, and awkward in social situations. However, the tide has changed, and the status of children without siblings is on the rise as a result. For parents who only have one child, it’s essential to equip themselves with effective parenting tips to navigate this unique family dynamic.
According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of children that were born to parents who had reached their maximum reproductive years in 2015 was 22%, up from 11% in 1967. The prevalence of one-child households is thought to have grown since then.
There are some good things and bad things about having a small family instead of a big one. Keep reading to pick up some of our best advice for parents of an only child.
Inculcating Social Competence
The development of one’s social abilities comes first. Your only child may benefit from more sibling interaction than a child growing up without siblings. Some suggestions for helping an only kid learn to interact with others.
1. Foster communication with those around you.
Some only children cope with isolation by developing emotional attachments to toys or other inanimate items. The best care in the world can’t always compensate for the absence of a peer group for an only child.
This is why, according to J. Lane Tanner, M.D., associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, more frequent social activities should be planned for an only child beginning at roughly 18 months of age. Plan play dates both at your house, where they can gain experience with sharing toys and adult attention and at their friend’s house, where they can practice taking direction from their peers.
2. Show the way.
Although only children miss out on the rough and tumble of sibling relationships, Meri Wallace, author of Birth Order Blues, argues that “sibling rivalry” might actually assist youngsters in learning to get along with peers. She explains that things like game loss, turn waiting, and making new friends can be extremely difficult for an only child. Parents of an only child can increase the chances of social success by doing the following:
- Show others by your actions what it means to compromise, share, and care about the needs of others.
- Acknowledge children when they are kind and firm with those who are not.
- Give an only child plenty of chances to practice the skills they would normally pick up from having a sibling.
3. Inspire joy.
The author of The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are, Kevin Leman, Ph.D., claims that only children have the potential to be so logical, scholarly, and straight-thinking that they fail to recognize the humor in things. This is, of course, a broad generalization; personality variation exists even among only children.
While no foolproof method exists to “teach” a child to be humorous, you may set a good example by modeling a playful attitude. They will probably do the same thing.
It’s easy to assume that raising an only child will result in someone who is more self-reliant and capable as an adult, but that’s not always the case. Your child’s growth and development can be supported by employing certain methods that encourage appropriate levels of autonomy.
4. Put in your two cents’ worth.
Raising an only child might result in a very intimate bond between parent and offspring. Some only children, however, place an unhealthy amount of emotional and intellectual dependency on their parents, and some parents may unwittingly encourage this.
According to Wallace, giving your child tasks like chores might help them develop independence. Every child, including those with no siblings, has to learn how to occupy their time and have fun without their parents’ constant involvement.
5. Avoid becoming involved.
As a parent of an only child, you should be aware of the tendency for your child to be a perfectionist (again, this is a broad generalization, but it’s something to keep in mind). If you try to “redo” everything your child does, such as remaking their bed or re-dusting a shelf they just cleaned, you’ll only be reinforcing those habits. Dr. Leman advises parents in his book, “Don’t be an ‘improver’ on everything your firstborn or only child says or does.”
6. Establish firm limits.
Only childs who spend a lot of time with adults may begin to view themselves as an adult, with the same rights and responsibilities, as their adult counterparts, as noted by Wallace. While it’s common for parents of only children to involve their offspring in some family decisions, many can and should be made without input from the kid.
Experts also emphasize the importance of parents having fun without their kids. For parents in committed relationships, time apart can be crucial in keeping the romance alive. Even lone parents need personal time occasionally.
Preparing an Only Child for Adulthood
Up next? Expectations. Remember that there is no such thing as a “wrong” family dynamic and that understanding how your own family’s dynamics may influence your child’s development can help you give them the greatest possible start in life.
7. Accept the truth.
It’s not always easy to discern what sort of conduct is age-appropriate for only children, especially if they are verbally precocious and early high achievers. It’s also hard to gauge how much effort is sufficient and how much is too much.
Some only children, by the time they are seven or eight years old, come across as miniature adults and often view other children as immature. However, as parents, you should do your best to maintain and reinforce reasonable expectations for your child.
8. Do not expect a flawless outcome.
Some only children seem to develop a natural tendency toward perfection. Keys to Parenting an Only Child author Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D., notes that only children are eager to please their parents and tend to adopt adult ideals because they hang out with adults. This can cause your 10-year-old piano prodigy to feel pressure to master all of Tchaikovsky’s pieces tonight.
Your child should know that you will still be proud of them no matter what they accomplish in life, even if they don’t make it to Carnegie Hall by middle school (or ever).
9. No “mini me” copies please!
Children need room and time to do whatever they want. Some parents might find it hard to accept that their child might not have the same goals as them.
You shouldn’t expect your 6-year-old to achieve the same level of success in gymnastics as you did at that age. Don’t use your only child as a pawn to further your personal goals; they are your only child. Instead of interfering, let them pursue their own passions.
Spoiling an Only Child
It’s true that single-child households may be more likely to have “spoiled” youngsters than those with several offspring. However, this is not always a terrible thing. Here are some suggestions for making the most of your family setup without going overboard.
10. Restrict lavish giving at all costs.
One danger of spoiling an only child is sending the message, “I always get what I want.” Pickhardt argues that it is never too late to rein in lavish gift-giving. There will be emotional backlash, but making this stand will pay off in the end. In the end, the time you spend with the kid is more valuable than any material possession you could give them.
11. Don’t spoil your one and only child.
It’s easy to get into the trap of meeting your aging child’s every whim when you’re parenting them. On the other hand, kids who share a household with others must frequently “wait in line” for their needs to be satisfied. And Dr. Tanner stresses the need to develop patience. Limits, delayed gratification, consistency with family rules, and expectations for behavior are all ways to combat the “I get what I want when I want it” mentality that can emerge in only children when their parents give in to their every whim.
12. Don’t try to make your kid happy all the time.
The secret to raising a happy child is not to always make them happy, as tempting as that may be. Pickhardt warns against spoiling an only child and saying “yes” to their demands. A child who demands their own way in all situations is an unintended consequence of this well-meaning goal. They start thinking, “It’s either my way or no way at all.”
Experts and parents agree that an only child’s undivided attention from their parents can have both beneficial and bad effects. But if you protect your only child from harm and shower them with your undying affection, you can rest assured that they will flourish. Many parents of only children report feeling a deep sense of friendship with their offspring. Most notably, they claim it’s a union that will endure a lifetime.
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