Monday, August 28, 2006

Raising an Only Child

I am an only child; my youngest daughter says that I was a 'lonely' child(what a play on words!). Perhaps that is true, and I used to always get asked 'don't you wish you had a brother or sister?" In my case, my parents just couldn't get pregnant again and yes, I did and still do wish I had a sibling. I see how my hubby interacts with his siblings and usually get the feeling I missed out on something. But whether by nature or by economics, how do you raise an only child to not be a spoiled brat or a shy and retiring child but to be a friendly and happy member of society.

Only children seem to have my myths and stereotypes floating around them. They are selfish; greedy; lonely; they rely too much on their parents; they don't interact well with peers because they hang around adults too much; but how much of these are really true?

Stigmas associated with only children date back a couple of hundred years when only children were considered to be not very well adjusted to their surroundings or even to be mentally disturbed. Only recently have studies have shown that only children are on the same behavior pattern as first born children are.

Small families present a whole new set of dynamics to the parents and while not overwhelmingly popular; 'only' represent about twenty percent of the American population. Raising an only child can be a challenge as well as very rewarding and here are a few tips on how not to raise the stereo-typical only child.

First, you will want to make time for interaction with other kids. Social skills can begin as early as eighteen months, so as a parent, you will want to make time with friends both at home in their own surroundings and away from home.

Start teaching your child social skills as early as a year. They can learn to share with others almost as early as they learn to walk. This is why it is so important to foster interaction between your child and other children. Also, children tend to grow up faster when they are primarily around adults. You need to let your child be a kid.

Learn not to over protect your child. Parents of onlys tend to smother their child (though not all parents are like this of course, but it does happen and it is easier for it to happen with onlys than with multi children families..) It is best to allow the child to fight their own battles. It is best to stand back and let your child work it out for themselves.

Separate yourself from your child, so your child can get used to having other kids around. This can start as early as shortly after birth. Take your baby to a daycare centre or a playgroup and expose them to other kids. Though they might not get the benefit of living with another child, they will certainly learn how to share toys, compromise and learn how to be considerate to others. Encourage your child to learn how to play by themselves. This uses their imagination and allows them to be their own best friend in later years.

Don't shower your child with gifts. My daughters think that I was so lucky because I got tons of Christmas presents while I was growing up, but I would much rather have had a sibling than lots of presents. I did get spoiled to a certain extent. I got a new book once a week while growing up and got quite a bit allowance. But I was also told 'no' when I requested a new toy sometimes when I was little. If the child is bombarded with gifts, they will get the message "I always get what I want." Learn to say 'no'.

Most onlys I have talked to either really liked being an only or totally hated it. In fact my husband and I decided long before we had kids that we would have two as not to have an only child just because I didn't want my child to have the life that I did (I had a fairly happy child hood, but spent most of my youth by myself interspersed every so often with friends).

Being an only child (from the child's point of view can be either lonely or a really great one. I found that growing up as an only child; you are forced to learn how to entertain yourself which is not a bad thing, but can be lonely. You learn how to be your own best friend early and you are in the company of adults a lot of the time which can or cannot be a good thing (this I believe has fostered my love of History, which started when I was a kid and still continues today). I find even now, that with my daughters, there are no cousins for them to play with on my side of the family. I do however have a very close relationship with my parents, so in some ways being an only was good and in other ways, not so much.

But if you have an only by chance or by choice with a little bit extra effort, time and patience, you will be blessed with a great kid and a wonderful adult.

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