I imagined that they would buy me horses, I would live in my own suite in a mansion, and I would have my own maid who would wait on me. Of course, my imaginary mother would be by my side day and night to grant my every wish and dote on me.
This fantasy was obviously far fetched. I grew up in a home with six kids. My parents were loving and wonderful. My fantasy life would have ruined me. I would not have learned life skills such as responsibility, sharing, giving to others, service of others, hard work, or selflessness.
Being an only child may be a dream for some. However, parents must be aware of some issues that are associated with raising a single child. Below are some essential tips for parents.
1. Avoid Overindulging or Spoiling the Child
One of the dangers of having an only child is spoiling them by giving them too much. It is easier to do this when there aren’t siblings in line wanting toys and gifts as well. Having one child makes it easy to overindulge them.
We can curb that tendency by setting limits. Determine how many gifts or a specific dollar amount for each holiday and stick to that limit.
You can also have them earn the things that they want. If they the newest video game, then have them do chores to earn money so they can earn it themselves. This can help delay gratification and teach them the value of earning something they desire.
2. Do Not Treat the Child Like a Fellow Adult in the Household
With only one child in the household, it becomes easy for parents to start treating them as an adult. Around age 8 or 9, many children show maturity and have adult-like behaviors. It becomes easy for parents to embrace this behavior because they understand it. However, the child is still a child, so they need to be treated as one.
RaisingChildren.net explains that the prefrontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed until adulthood.((RaisingChildren.net: Brain development: teenagers)) Even teenagers will act impulsively because their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed.
Parents need to understand that impulsive behaviors happen with children because of this. So, we can’t expect children to be adults because they are not there yet in terms of development. Allow them to be children. They only get to be one once in their lives.
3. Socialize Your Child With Their Peers
A research article by Kitzman and Lockwood (2020) in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that children who grow up without siblings are less able to handle conflict with their peers.((Sage Journals: Are Only Children Missing Out? Comparison of the Peer-Related Social Competence of Only Children and Siblings)) This is likely attributed to not having regular conflict resolution activities with siblings.
Therefore, socialization with peers is of utmost importance. But even beyond that, parents should allow their children to resolve their own peer conflicts whenever possible. This will teach them how to get along with their peers and resolve conflicts on their own.
Often, parents want to protect their child and will interfere with peer interactions if they see their child is going to be emotionally hurt. Parents should teach their kids conflict resolution skills by talking about how to react in these situations. Teaching them how to deal with their peer conflicts and to only seek adult intervention when necessary (such as the risk of physical harm) is helpful to the child’s social skill development.
4. Set Realistic Expectations
When adults are only raising one child, they can have all of their hopes and dreams wrapped up in them. Parents should set realistic expectations. Children are individuals, and they are not you. They are their own person and as such, they have their own gifts, talents, and abilities that differ from your own. You should assess them on their own abilities, not yours.
Expecting a child to be a super sports star and bound for the ivy league may not be reasonable. Each of them is special and unique.
If someone has four kids, we may see one who excels at sports, another who excels at academics, another who is artistic, and another who is completely unknown in their talents and gifts because they are still young. With an only child, we can’t expect them to fulfill all the dreams, hopes, and ambitions that could fill an entire family of six.
Seek to find out what your child may be good at in life. They may have certain activities that they excel in and others that they do not. Encourage them in all that they do, but don’t set expectations that are unreasonable and unattainable.
5. Give Them Chores to Teach Responsibility
Having one child makes it easier to do all the work in the household because it is doing laundry and cleaning up after for only one person.
Parents with three kids are more likely to require their children to chip in on household chores out of necessity. One parent can’t keep up with the messes and work involved with a bigger family.
Children who are the only child in a home must still be required to do chores. It will help them learn about responsibility. They will also learn practical life skills such as how to fold laundry, how to properly wash dishes, and how to vacuum and clean the home.
It can be empowering for them to do chores, especially if they are rewarded for extra chores so they can earn things that they want.
6. Don’t Be Their Constant Entertainment
Kids want attention and time from their parents. It is wonderful for parents to give this to their children, but there should be a balance.
If, for example, a stay at home mom has only one child, she is not expected to constantly entertain the child all day long. Parents need time to get their own work and housework completed, along with time for themselves.
It becomes easy for parents to feel guilty about not playing with their child enough, especially when the child is constantly asking for the parent to play. Parents should set reasonable expectations for their kids when it comes to entertaining them.
For example, the stay-at-home mom may say to her only child, “I am going to play trains with you for 20 minutes and then you can play for 20 minutes on your own while I do the laundry.”
Finding playgroups or moms with children who are similar ages to your own child is helpful. This can help the child with the playtime that they naturally desire with others. When they don’t have peers or siblings to engage in play with, then they do depend on their parents to be their playmates.
Parents can find friends of their child’s own age to provide them with the engagement and play they need and want.
7. Find Activities to Engage Your Child With Their Peers
There was a window of time—before I had our twins and when our foster daughter was no longer living with us—when it was just our own daughter in our home. That was a great opportunity for me to get out of the house and find places and activities that would engage our daughter with her peers.
She was over a year old by that time, so she was ready to play with other children and have activities that would help with her development.
Library Story Time
One activity that we enjoyed was the library storytime. Most public libraries offer programs for parents and their kids. These storytimes often have stories being read along with additional activities that engage the children and require interaction with all of them together. Such activities we have done during the library storytime include parachute time and crafts.
If you are with your child at storytime and they are getting along with other children there, then take the opportunity to introduce yourself to their parent. You can even ask if they would like to get together at a local playground in the future since they play well together.
Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) is an international organization. They typically meet at local churches and there are programs for the mothers while the children are cared for together in the nursery. This allows the children to play with their peers while moms can connect with fellow moms. You can find a MOPS group near you by going to the MOPS Website.
You can sign your little one up for baby gym classes. There are a variety of businesses that offer programs and classes that are geared specifically for babies, toddlers, and children. Some of these businesses include My Gym, The Little Gym, and Gymboree. These types of locations and the classes they offer provide a great opportunity for children to play with their peers as the classes are typically grouped by age.
Our family has attended classes at three different baby gym locations. My kids loved the activities and meeting with kids their own age. It was also how I met several of my closest friends when our family moved across the country. These ladies had kids the same age as mine, so I invited them to my home for a playdate. I had snacks for the children, coffee for the moms, and the kids had fun playing together in our playroom area.
Don’t miss opportunities to connect with parents who have kids the same age as your own child. You may create some friendships for life!
I have taken my kids to music classes and swimming classes. In both of these instances, they were able to connect with children their own age. Again, it is an opportunity to meet fellow parents, so you can arrange playdates or playground meet-ups with fellow parents who have children the same age.
Some other types of classes and activities that you may find locally—by googling your location and the type of activity—include kid’s yoga, “mommy and me” cooking classes, children’s museum programs, and baby sign language classes.
The biggest takeaway for parents raising an only child is understanding that their kid will need socialization with their peers. Since they don’t have any siblings, the parents must get their kids out of the house and find places where they can play with children their own age.
Parents can be intentional about this by seeking out activities and classes that are geared for their child’s age. Then, they can take that opportunity to connect with other parents so that playdates can set up with their new friends in the future.