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Raising an only (not lonely) child

“When are you going to have another child so little Johnny can have a brother or sister to play with?” Between pressure from friends and family (not to mention strangers) to have a second child and the guilt you feel when your child is playing alone, raising an only child can be quite a challenge.

Studies show that only and eldest children derive similar benefits from being the sole recipients of their parents’ affection—slightly higher test scores, greater maturity for their age and an “in-charge” attitude. However, when the eldest child gets a sibling, he or she is forced to deal with things like sharing, compromising and coming in second—facts of life only children don’t naturally get in a family situation.

So how do you ensure your only child acquires the necessary social and life skills? Between school and friends, your child will most likely learn to play and work well in groups, but there are a few things you can do to make life a little smoother for you and your child:

  • Foster relationships. Starting at a young age, provide your child with many opportunities to play and be around other children. Organize play groups, go to the park, invite over neighbor kids or same-age cousins. Or find a daycare program for your child to attend once or twice a week. These play times will give your child the chance to socialize with other kids and give him or her a needed break from solo playtime—and adults!
  • Let life teach. If you build the perfect environment in your home—free of failure, mistakes or punishment—your child will get a hard-and-fast lesson about reality when he or she enters the real world. Don’t set your child up for failure, but don’t discourage it either. Tackling a task that is difficult can challenge and strengthen your child. If he or she is not the best soccer player or piano player, it is not the end of the world. The discipline that comes with training can be applied to many aspects of your child’s life. Disappointment is also a valuable lesson.
  • Only one doesn’t mean #1. Believe it or not, your child is not the most important person in the world to most other people. He or she can’t always be first. It may be a difficult lesson to teach when your family is so small, but it’s important to get across to your child that everyone has a turn at going first and leading the crowd. Let your child know that sometimes he or she can learn more by listening and watching than by leading and pushing. In addition, to avoid placing impossible expectations on your child, refrain from terms like “perfect,” “princess” or “the best.”
  • Say no. You may be able to indulge your child’s every whim, but don’t give in. When your child asks why, explain that everything has a limit—toys, dessert and even parents.