Supporting Your Only Child’s Balanced Growth
When David and Sharon found that their medical condition did not allow for a second child, they decided to work around the problem by sitting down to discuss why they wanted to give their son Jon a sibling in the first place. ‘I wanted him to know about sharing and caring for others. My husband wanted him to be more independent. Of course, we both thought it would be great for our son to grow up with a companion.’
The couple delved deeper into the reasons for their wanting a sibling for their son, which included:
- Enabling ‘give and take’ feelings in their child.
- Stop making him self centered.
- Ensure he was not lonely or bored.
What they found after much research was that many of these reasons were stereotypical or just plain false. They realized that it was all about parenting and little or none at all about siblings.
David and Sharon found ways to offer their son these strengths without adopting another child or opt for more intensive medical treatment to make a second pregnancy possible. The couple decided upon a variety of activities that they believed would aid in the balanced growth of their son Jon- even with the absence of a sibling who would have probably given him instant companionship.
An only child seldom feels the annoyance of having to ‘wait’ to watch his favorite TV channel. Particularly if the household has two television sets, the parents may be watching their shows on one while the child has a free run on the other. There are countless examples like these- who gets the window seat, who gets to open the new cookie box first and so on. You must tell your child early on that, though as an only child he is more privileged and ‘less taxed’ than those with siblings, he must know how to share with other people.
There is something else you need to bear in mind: children from large families are used to arguing and fighting for the metaphorical ‘window seat’. Over time, they might not only have become adept at it, but also developed a feeling of normality to all this. Your only child may find all this aggravating and unfair, and you might have to clue in your only child on this.
Activities to promote sharing
‘To show our only child Jessica that she is not the center of the universe, we got her to volunteer for a local ‘sell a cookie and save a puppy’ social initiative program’, says Martha, mother of an 11 year old only child.
It helps when parents themselves enroll in social services and volunteer their time and services to set an example for their only child. Sharon involved herself in activities like offering to shop for an aged person and collecting funds for the homeless.
When a friend is ill, get your only child to call the friend regularly or offer to help with the school work. When you buy a new pair of jeans or a set of new shirts for your only child, tell him that he has to give away that many old clothes of his to someone needy. This makes space not only in his shelf but also in his heart.
‘When George interrupted us for the sixth time in a two minutes’ conversation with a guest, we knew we had failed to impart an important lesson to him,’ says Gregory. The only child has the privilege of getting his parents’ undivided attention almost all the time. Most parents are all ears when it comes to listening to their only child. This establishes an expectation in the child that he be heard first all the time.
Waiting to be attended to
While children from large families have to vie for parental attention and scramble for ‘talk time’, the only child enjoys an abundance of it. When you find your only child interrupting your conversations or resenting your telephonic conversations with others, it is time to act.
Define acceptable behavior and set boundaries. Tell your child he has to wait for his turn to speak within the family. Let your only child wait for his turn to watch TV instead of edging you out of the room. Give him a fair idea of what competition is within the house.
Do not limit your telephonic conversation because ‘little Tom does not like me talking too much to others’. Remind your child to behave herself with when she tugs at you to stop speaking over the phone. ‘I make sure I compliment Jon when he behaves well amidst company,’ says David.
Some parents fail to realize early on that their undivided attention and eager parenting could result in making their only child dependant. The golden rule here is ‘don’t do for your child what he is perfectly capable of doing on his own.’ Are you are still tying the shoelaces or hanging up the wet towels or gathering clothes after your ten year old? Then its time to start making some changes!
The gift of independence
Make the gift of independence to your only child. Don’t mistake good parenting for ‘doing everything for your child’. Part of your parental duty is to make your child less and less dependant on you for his daily activities as he grows into adulthood.
Start by showing him what he can do for himself. A five year old can help you set the table. A six year old can make his own bed (however clumsily). Your child can be assigned small tasks around the house like putting out the garbage, taking out the laundry, folding napkins or even helping out in the kitchen depending on their age.
Another important way of ensuring that your child does not miss the presence of a sibling is through friends and playmates. Peers can teach the only child a great deal on sharing and caring, fighting and making up, receiving and giving, taking the good with the bad and most importantly the feeling that the only child is ‘one among many’. These are lessons adults cannot impart.