Playmates For Your Only Child: Why and How
Even from age two, a child can relate to another child and can spend brief periods of time in (parallel) play and companionship. The need for such play with peers increases with age. The ability to engage in such interaction for longer duration grows with the years.
An only child in particular benefits greatly by such interaction. In the absence of a sibling, the only child gets an opportunity to face new experiences like conflicts in sharing, joy in giving and receiving, and above all, companionship with an equal.
Parallel play for short durations: Between the age of two and four, children may just engage in parallel play, and when they do play together, there may be greater conflicts in sharing. It is a good idea to leave your child for shorter intervals initially.
Planning ahead: While it is true that parents of several children don’t find the need to fix play-dates for their children as keenly as parents of only children do, it is not true that children are content to play with just their siblings.
While a parent of several children can say, “go play with your brother”, for a parent of an only child it means having to plan in advance and finding good companions. “I always use the weekend to plan who will come over to our place on which days, and where Anna will go on the remaining days,” says Norma. Give other parents a couple of days notice.
Predictability to the routine will greatly ease your stress to find regular playmates. “My daughter plays with her music teacher’s daughter Evelyn, on Friday evenings after her class finishes, and Evelyn comes over to our place on Wednesdays.” says Norma. “So that leaves just three more days to fix, as weekends are spent entirely with us parents in doing groceries or visiting a place of interest.”
Location, location, location: Parents of onlies who live far away from kid-filled neighborhoods may find it difficult to ferry friends to and from their homes. The benefits of a large neighborhood cannot be over-emphasized, particularly when your child is an only.
One can either move into a larger, kids-a-plenty area, or alternately plan well in advance and make arrangements for your child to be picked and dropped at her friends’ places and vice versa. “It takes a long ride to reach my daughter’s friend’s place. It is tough, but we are managing as of now. A year or two later, we may consider moving to a larger neighborhood,” says Jonathan.
Be on the lookout: While on a holiday, take a walk to the park where you are likely to meet other kids of your child’s age. This will make the holiday enjoyable for your child too.
Go closer to source: If you are unable to find friends and playmates for your child, go to those places where you are likely to find children of your child’s age. Enroll in a club, attend church, volunteer for a local social organization, hang out at the library- you may find other parents who have similar-aged children. Reading your local community newspaper is a good way to find more information on all this. Bigger newspapers have sections or pullouts for local community news and events.
While ensuring adequate company for your only child, it is also important to not force friendships on him. If your child is temperamentally withdrawn and shy, allow him to grow out of it instead of forcing him to be with company.
Also, if your child is uncomfortable about being with a particular family or child, respect his preferences and do not compel him to continue the relationship.