The Only Child And Her Peers
“My daughter Kathy has a wonderful rapport with adults around her” beamed Carolyn, mother of an only child when her husband Craig added a little gingerly “but she is yet to catch up with his own peers.”
Only children, owing to their close interaction with adults, often grow up feeling more comfortable and secure amidst adult rather than with their own peers. In a family where the majority of members are adults, one may slip into the pattern of treating their only child as a grown up. When the family unit is as small as three members, an only child may often aim at working to “elevate himself to this parents’ level” and could grow up too fast in the process.
A healthy mix of adults and kids
The key is in balancing a child’s time between adults and peers. Julian, mother of a six year old only child, says, “I decided early on that mine will be an only child. So I made sure my daughter Reba got enough opportunities to be around peers. I began fixing play dates for her as early as when she was two.”
In the absence of playmates, parents run the risk of becoming their children’s constant playmates. This may set in anxiety and intensify separation angst when the child goes to nursery or play school. While this phenomenon is common in that age group among all children, the anxiety and intensity may be heightened for an only child.
A child needs to play with her equals. Parents, grand parents and aunts don’t make for playmates or friends. Here, even a sibling may not be as useful as we think. Children learn more readily about friction and adjustments, fights and making-up from friends and peers rather than from their own siblings. The tendency to play in peace is also higher with friends than with one’s own siblings.
Using time creatively
What is your child doing with her time? Is he always alone- playing by himself, or watching TV, or is he just daydreaming? Parents can encourage their child to be with friends, participate in group activities, or take up team sports like baseball or basketball.
In case your child is temperamentally a loner and prefers fewer friendships to an assortment of shallow buddies, respect her decision and let him be. A pen-pal may also give the required outlet for your only child.
A parent can create opportunities for their only child to be exposed to a variety of similar-aged people or be exposed to arts and sports. Finally, the child can decide which suits her temperament the best.
Parents of only children may be faced with the proposal of finding playmates for their only child on almost a daily basis. Moving to a neighborhood filled with children makes this a much simpler task. It is heartening to see similarly-aged kids just by opening your front-door. When an only child is surrounded by playmates and friends, he has lesser occasion and reason to yearn for a sibling.
Strengths obtained from interaction with friends
Children largely determine their self worth through relationships with their peers and through acceptance into their peer group. How onlies interact with other children in their childhood influences their relationships during adulthood.
Friends teach only children that there will not be a parent or an adult around always to speak for you and your rights. The only child will realize that he has to stand up and speak up for his own rights.
In the absence of a sibling to argue and fight with and later make up, an only child may not know the dynamics of disagreeing and fighting over an issue. They may either fear or shy away from confrontations. Diane confesses to not knowing “how to argue or state her views tactfully” even after she turned adult. Peer quarreling is a valuable ground for the only child to pick up some lifelong lessons.
Ensure that your child is not sticking to just one friend but instead spreads his time across a variety of friends. Does he get upset or jealous if a close friend makes other friendships? Is he overly possessive and dependent on a particular friend? Hard as it may be, your child has to learn to share not just his things but also his friends. Here, experience is the best teacher for the child.
As a parent, encourage her to bring friends over for lunch or dinner. Also allow your child to visit other friends’ homes. Sleepovers and spending vacations together can be great exercises in bonding and in bringing about a sibling-like closeness. Outings like visit to museum, park or a zoo will be more interesting and special for the child if a friend comes along.
The growing years will be fruitful and enriching for the only child if she has learnt how to interact with her peers as much as she has learnt how to be with herself.
In the absence of siblings, the only child may look upon her friends as siblings and enjoy positive gains from the relationships. Like Jenny, who rightly puts it “I am still in touch with some of my childhood friends. They were my surrogate siblings or even better- they were “chums”. I have never felt alone in my life, ever. Thanks to them.”