Apr 132008

Your Only Child: Holding On And Letting Go

The day a child prepares to leave home to find his feet in the big world outside is a day every parent looks forward to with equal anticipation and dread.

While in the back of every parent’s mind is the knowledge that one day their fledgling would indeed fly the nest, no parent would be able to think of that day without experiencing moments of pang and sometimes even sorrow. If anything, that ‘happy-sad’ moment is particularly harder on parents of only children.

Having been a “little universe” unto themselves, parents of only children may experience deep pangs of anxiety, sadness and concern when their child flexes his wings to set out into the world. While ‘holding on’ came easy to them, they realize letting go might not be such an easy task after all. As for the only adult, it may indeed be a daunting proposal to step into the world outside leaving behind the loving, protected and secure environment of his home.

Give your child “roots and wings”, says Patricia Nachman in her book “You and Your Only Child”. While roots imply a loving home, a friendly and trusted environment that will make your child confident and secure, wings imply the capacity to explore and experience freedom when the child steps out into the big world. The deeper the roots go, the stronger the wings would grow.

While roots imply the act of “holding on” to your child, wings imply the act of “letting go”. When there is a fine balance between holding on and letting go, when there is an equal pull from both extremes, children benefit from that dynamism and flourish within that golden mid-point.

How to hold on yet learn to let go of your child? How to strike that golden balance between giving them a solid base yet giving them the ability to bravely explore and experience the world? Research states that parents can enable not only their child, but also themselves in a positive manner, wherein the family enjoys not just their times together but also allows for times apart without undergoing extreme separation pangs.

Being one of many

Parents of only children will do well in allowing their child to mix with peers of his age sooner in his life. Apart from helping in making the child connect to other people and situations, the parents themselves will learn to have time apart from the child. Let your child enjoy sleepovers with cousins and friends. If there is a chance for him to have a vacation with a friend or relative and if you are comfortable with the idea and the adults who are offering to take him, permit it. It will be a learning experience for him as much as you.

His room, his space

Learn to respect your child’s personal space from an early age. Often, parents go overboard in decorating their child’s room, not to his taste but to their own. Also, as your child grows, learn to be sensitive to his need for privacy and personal space. This will help you look at your child as a separate individual and not just an extension of yourself. When you as parents learn to set apart your child’s needs and wants, you will also evolve to a position wherein when it is time to leave home, you will adapt to it as a natural course of events in your child’s life.

Have a personal life

Many parents invest their entire energies and emotion on their only child and feel empty and deprived when their one and only leaves home for college or career. While it is only fair that we allow our child to grow on his chosen path, we cannot do it at the cost of our personal happiness. The solution is to nurture a life apart from your child’s. From your child’s early years, learn to engage in activities, cultural or social, which does not include your child. Have hobbies and pastimes that encourage your own special talents and abilities. Build a stable “other life” that will stand you in good stead when your child leaves home.

Invest in the marriage

The marriage must always be important and your relationship as man and wife must get equal priority as your role as parents. When the marriage is strong and stable, the family automatically becomes a happy and stable one.

Many couples invest in their child more than in their relationship. Often the child becomes the binding factor and not each other. This is not a good trend to follow. Nurture your relationship and the child will thrive automatically. Later, when your child grows to be a man with his own family and responsibilities, you will not feel left out or lonely and you will have each other to keep company.

 Posted by at 11:24 am
Apr 042008

An Odd Situation? One Child is not an Odd number!

Some parents make the choice of having an only child consciously and happily. However, for some parents, having an only child is not a choice they make. Due to various circumstances, they are forced to settle for just one child. Many parents (mainly mothers) feel strongly about their ‘small’ family and worry about it. This feeling is often not expressed openly but nurtured as a wound inside their hearts. Sometimes, worries and feelings of guilt go out of control, ending up hurting the only child. With the passing of time, many learn to accept their “only child” situation and grow to enjoy their only child family.

Who Feels the Pain More about having an Only Child?

Compared to those who had the luxury of making a choice, the parents on whom the only child situation was forced upon tend to suffer more. To start with, they didn’t want to have an only child family. They feel constant guilt and tend to blame themselves. Adding salt to injury is the constant pressure and questions they face from their family and peers. Family get-togethers are the worst situations for such parents. It would be wonderful if family members realize that certain topics are sensitive and private. Is that too much to ask for? A way out for parents of onlies is to learn to come to terms with their situation and thus reduce their guilt. Once their feelings of guilt are reduced, they will not feel so much pressured by inappropriate questions. They tend to go easy on themselves.

Only Child Family- An Example:

Sarah and her husband come from large families. They always maintained good relationship with their siblings. They never had any doubt in their minds that theirs too will be a large family. But after they had their first child, Sarah failed to conceive- even after trying for 4 years. Initially, it didn’t worry her much. But as the years passed and all her peers and siblings started expanding their family, Sarah started worrying. Visiting family became a nightmare. Someone or the other always asked Sarah and her husband about the second one. Although Sarah’s husband felt uncomfortable, he didn’t take it negatively, justifying to himself that it was all in good nature and that this is what families discuss. He wondered why Sarah was being so hostile and taking it as a personal affront. In time, these feelings led to arguments between the couple. There was the usual blaming each other game. They spent a lot of time talking to others and surfing online to find a solution to their problem.

The Solution- NOT

After visiting many doctors and spending heaps of money, they decided to try artificial insemination. By this time, they had already exhausted what ever little savings they had. So Sarah sold some of her stocks and also borrowed from her sisters.

The date for the treatment was set. As planned, Sarah and James took their only child to her mother’s house who had offered to babysit the 6 year old. As Sarah was leaving through the door, grandma told the child: “Mommy is going on some important work. I am going to take care of you until she comes back. Come on, let’s have fun”. But Sarah’s son said “Mom and Dad are going to get a better child for themselves, aren’t they?”. Sarah was shocked to hear her son’s words. She didn’t know what to do. She kissed her son and walked away. But her son’s words wouldn’t leave her.

In her eagerness to expand her family, Sarah had slowly started neglecting her son. She never even thought for once how her son felt when she was so eagerly looking for another child. She thought it was her duty to provide a ‘whole’ family for her son so that he will grow like a ‘normal’ child. But she didn’t realize that her actions left her only child with an impression that she was looking for a better child. Sarah never felt so dreadful in her entire life. In her search for something she thought was important, she forgot what she already had.

The last year in particular had been terrible for Sarah. It had made her snappy, depressed and aloof. She had depleted their savings and got the family into debt- and all for what? For some treatment which might or might not give her another child. On the way to the hospital, she started thinking about the whole situation and did some soul searching. Was she doing the right thing? When she failed to be a good mother to one that she already had, what right does she have to bring another into this world? She realized how much she had changed.

James parked the car in the parking lot and was waiting for Sarah to get down. Sarah didn’t move, tears were rolling down her cheeks. She didn’t say anything at all. When James asked her what the problem was, she told him that she wanted to go home. James was surprised and angry. The past few years had been very tough for him, especially with Sarah becoming detached. Even though he was not opposed to spending their savings to have more children, he was not happy with the thought of borrowing money from others. But he gave in to Sarah’s constant whining and fighting. Although initially he had the same drive like hers to expand their family, the financial situation and the pressure changed him. He came to terms that theirs would be an only child family. But Sarah did not. James thought agreeing to this treatment would make Sarah happy and then may be they could get back to their normal life. And now, at the last moment, she was hesitating. He wanted to scream at her, but one look at her tear-stained face made him change his mind. Instead, he held her hands and said “Let’s go home”. On the way, Sarah told James about their son’s comment and they realized their mistake.

Are You Trying to Change Your Only Child Situation?

There are many people like Sarah and James, with various variations on the story. It is understandably a very sad situation when an only child situation is forced on some parents. But such families need to learn to come to terms with their situation, otherwise they might not only hurt themselves, but also their only child.

An only child is a number too- better than zero! A person might have come from a big family and want a big family. That doesn’t mean that a big family is right for their kids. There is no ideal family size. Our grand parents had 8 to 12 children, our parents had 4 or 5, and we even smaller. Every generation had a range and may be 1 is right for some of us.

Coming to terms with your only child status:

  • Don’t let others’ questions about the next child bother you. The best option is to avoid answering them and hopefully they will get the message. Remember, answering them will only extend the topic, making it a full-fledged family discussion. The Only Child Project would like to read your rights again: You are not required to answer any question. Whatever you say will be used against you to prolong the discussion. You have the right to remain silent. If you are not able to remain calm, please advice the family gathering that it is a very difficult and personal issue which you would not like to discuss at this time.
  • Understand the issues. Go over the pros and cons of having an only child and focus on the pros, and slowly try to change the cons to pros.
  • Learn not to compare your life with your child’s life. When our parents were growing up, they played on the roads with the neighborhood kids. They climbed trees, and cycled to the neighborhood mom and pop store to buy candy. We did some of this, that too on a reduced level. Times have changed. We cannot let our kids roam the streets- its just not that safe anymore. Neighborhoods have changed. Sometimes you might feel that she is missing out on something by not running around the streets and having fun. But remember, your daughter and her peers don’t realize that they are missing out on anything- because they never experienced anything like that and they DON”T CARE! Their lifestyle is different. We need to let them live their lives.

We all want to give the best to our children and in the process get carried away. The trickiest part of parenting is actually figuring out what is best for our child. What was good for us may not be right for them, and what is good for others may not be good for us. So, until the storks learn to deliver babies with instruction manuals: Dear parents, take is easy!

You already have the best child in the world. Learn to love and cherish your only child.

 Posted by at 5:06 am
Feb 062008

The Only Child and Aging Parents

Just as parents of an only child nurse anxieties about leaving their child “alone” without a sibling, only adults also nurse anxieties about their aging parents and about having to leave them alone owing to geographical or economic constraints.

There are other issues as well: when an ‘only’ adult gets a family of his own, his time and attention may be divided between his parents and family, which may not go down well with the aging parents. And in cases of ailing parents, the only adult in the absence of a sibling may find himself shouldering the entire responsibility of caring for them.

Only Child and Long-Distance Relationship with Parents

“When I had to relocate to another country after a promotion, I am an only child and I had a very difficult time deciding between leaving my parents alone here and pursuing my career in an alien country. But my parents were wonderfully supportive and encouraged me to migrate” says Daniel.

Speaking of geographical separation, even while living in the same country, if you and your parents live in two different states, the situation is more or less the same.

The bottom line is: how available the only adult is to his aging parents.

“My parents are rather healthy and independent. They have each other to keep company and they are managing wonderfully without me” says Barbara, who lives three states away from her parents. “I don’t know what the situation would be even if one of them were to pass away” she adds.

There are circumstances where parents of adult only children are not as supportive or independent as Daniel’s and Barbara’s. In such cases, the parents may evoke feelings of guilt in the only adult knowingly or unknowingly.

The Only Child is Closer But Still Not Enough!

Ruth, an Only Child who was very close to her parents, finds herself in a tricky situation. Though she lives only a couple of blocks away from her parents and keeps in touch with her parents through routine phone calls and visits, her parents still don’t feel that it is enough. “Ah! But you are busy with your own family” is an oft-heard remark from her parents, which drives Ruth nuts.

Sick Parents and the Only Child

It is worse when a parent is laid down by a difficult disease which affects his/her mobility. An adult only child, in the absence of a sibling, may indeed find it difficult to be the sole appointee who has to ferry the parent to and from doctor’s visits and constantly attend to their needs. “I convinced my father to move in with me after he was paralyzed. I am all he has and I don’t regret the decision. But there are times when I wish there was a sibling to share the physical and emotional load of tending to a sick parent” says Donald.

The Only Child: Burden of Sole Responsibility

The situation of Jonathan is starkly different. He wants to be available for his aging and ailing parents since he is the only child; he wants to be able to take them to the doctor and wants to care for them. But his economic condition prevents him from doing so. Jonathan has been between jobs on and off and is yet to find a steady stream of income. Often, and much to his own chagrin, he is forced to borrow money from his parents. “Well, if I had a sibling maybe I wouldn’t feel this guilty. I would think, well it is Joe or Jane’s turn to care for our parents and when I am back on my feet it would be my turn. But now there is no scope for such comfort,” he says.

What you can do in these circumstances

If you are an only child and your parents are encouraging, independent and supportive of you, express your happiness to them. Make them feel cherished and tell them how their attitude enhances the quality of your life.

If your parents make unrealistic demands on your time and fail to acknowledge that you have a family of your own to attend to, tell them gently but firmly about the various demands placed on you and how you are doing your best to cater to both your parents’ and your family’s needs. Tell them you love them very much but you cannot be present round the clock to attend to their needs. If you can afford it, arrange for a care provider who can look into their physical needs or run errands for them.

In case you are unable to support your parents owing to your own economic constraints, do not feel guilty or small. Promise yourself that you will make it up to them once the situation improves. But be available to them emotionally and physically as much as you can afford it. Economics is only a tiny part of a relationship.

Even in a multiple children family, parents often choose to live either independently or only with one of their many children and seldom change base every quarter to stay with all of their children for equal periods of time!! That way, more often than not, the chosen child literally becomes a single child who has to carry the physical and emotional load of caring for his aging parents. Hence the best way is to ensure that you as an only child are available to your aging parents in a way that is comfortable for both you and your parents.

 Posted by at 11:25 am
Feb 062008

Parents Of Only Children And The Guilt Factor- The Only Child Pros and Cons

For various reasons and in varied contexts, parents of only children feel guilt. But don’t forget that there are only child pros and cons to be considered. While Maybelle feels guilt for “not giving a brother or sister” to her only child, Ron feels guilty for choosing her career over a second child. Typical situations or reasons that arouse guilt in the parents of only children are:

Age, career and a second child: Many couples feel guilt about their decision to not have a second child. “Better bring the other one soon,” casual as it may sound may cause a serious dent in your decision to have an only child. The urgency that biological time is ticking away can cause panic. Women who put off having another child in order to focus better on their careers often come under the pressure of having to watch their “biological age”. “Friends were constantly urging me to have another child. Your career may wait for you, but a chance of having a second child won’t was a constant refrain I heard” says Jolene.

Remember: Having a child is a full time employment in itself. Having two children will only defer your career plans still further.

The sibling issue: “Your child needs someone to play with” is yet another way of sneaking guilt into your mind. Parents of only children may be haunted by the sibling issue even long after it is even relevant. “Have I left my child alone in this world? Who will he turn to after our death? Are we denying him a companion for life? Am I selfish?” are common questions that may weaken your will. The truth is not all sibling relationships are rosy and strong till the end. Many siblings drift apart or develop dislike for each other or may be geographically so distanced that close relationships become impossible.

Unpredictable sibling relationship: One can never predict the course of the relationship between your first child and the second. Kate, who grew up with a brother, confesses, “I had such a stressful relationship with my brother that I can never be convinced to give my daughter a brother or sister.” An only child enjoys a parents’ special attention and can easily get their time unlike in a multi-child household where attention is always divided

In present days’ hectic life and schedule, it is a worthwhile idea to consider having just one child and giving him your emotional and material best.

Remember: Your decision to have an only child should be based on what you think is best for you and your child. It need not be subject to change owing to pressure from people who are not going to pitch in to bring up your second child. In a nutshell, you cannot have another child to assuage someone else’s concern about you.

Making time for oneself: “Come to think of it, it is strange that Daniel and I have not gone out alone anywhere since Rich was born,” admits Nora. Parents of onlies are so devoted to their child that they sometimes forget that they need to nurture their personal life too.

Don’t take the guilt trip: Many couples feel guilt about having to leave their kids with babysitters or caregivers for even very short hours, leave alone for days. Taking time off is vital for the marriage to thrive and also gives a boost in energy that is required for child rearing.

One need not go away for days at a stretch. Couples can go out for dinner or a movie without the child tagging along. They can do a short weekend trip to some place after leaving the child with a trustworthy caregiver. “Daniel and I were actually calling each other Mom and Dad” laughs Angela. “We had begun relating to each other as parents of Vincent and less and less as man and wife, strange as it may sound. Only after we began to take these small breaks and began going out occasionally for luncheons or dinners without Vincent that we began to reconnect. Believe me, it really helps” she says.

Couple hood and Parenthood: The best gift you can give your child is to be a loving couple as well as loving parents. For that, it is important that you take time out as individuals and as couples. Take turns to get time alone and time together. “I have my own set of plans. When my husband takes care of Dora, I take a walk, or go to the parlor or catch up with old friends. When I am with Dora on a Saturday evening, my husband goes to the gym or hangs out with his buddies. We need that time off from the family” says Jeanne.

Remember: You need not feel guilty about taking time off for yourself and as a couple. You owe it to yourself!

 Posted by at 11:19 am
Feb 062008

Only Child And His Teacher

A good teacher-child relationship is a powerful mechanism for change and development in the child. A teacher is a co-custodian of the child and is integral to his development into a balanced adult. It is not just the parents but also the teacher who essentially should not only support the values followed in the child’s home but should also expand his understanding of the world and contribute in his growth into a balanced adult.

Parent vs. Teacher

Research indicates that a close relationship between teacher and child fosters conducive environment which encourages positive child outcome. It is impossible for parents to make perfect initiatives and appropriate interventions all the time in order to foster positive qualities in their child. That is where a teacher comes in.

Teachers: more important than you think

Parents of only children can view a good teacher as a co-custodian of their child who can offer not just quality care but also help him make gains that are not made possible in the home environment. “Learning outside the home begins early in life. Over a third of all U.S. children under the age of five are cared for outside of their homes by individuals not related to them.” [Zeller Jacqueline, Early childhood education and beyond. Teacher-child relationships and learning]

If you have decided on a regular schooling option for your child and not home schooling, what kind of support are you expecting from the teacher (outside of home and the values it fosters) to enhance the growth and development of your only child?

“I put Jane into a mainstream school though I must confess I found home schooling equally attractive. I decided on a regular school as I wanted Jane to thrive under the care of able teachers too. Good teachers can be excellent role models and shape a child to a great extent” says Norma.

Learning from examples

As a child grows, she learns to exercise control over her body, emotions, attention and behavior. At this stage, the child will emulate and imitate the behavior of adults she comes in contact with. The growing years are crucial to the only child as she would need more adult examples to emulate and learn from.

“I sometimes feel that our home environment is too lax and easy on our only child Melissa. We feel it will help if she goes to a school where she has to abide by certain rules and learn to be disciplined” says Richard. “Also, the only child will greatly benefit from making connections with caring adults other than her own parents or relatives” he adds. A good teacher can foster the sense and security that can give the child the essential comfort to tackle academic and developmental challenges.

Benefits Of A Good “Teacher-And-Only-Child” Relationship

A teacher, unlike a parent, will not show preferential treatment to your only child. She will ensure that your child understands that she is one among many. This is the first important childhood lesson for your only child.

The rigors of regular schooling demand team work, and the teacher will help your only child work better within a team.

Challenges, whether academic or developmental, are always contextual. What is your child like in the presence of her peers? What are the issues your child faces within the context of a school? These questions can be answered only by a teacher. A teacher can help your child make positive gains like qualities of sharing, ability to work in teams, resolving fights etc. She stands in as a parent and an observer of your child in this context and can provide valuable insight into your child’s psyche.

A good teacher can invest your child with a passion for a particular subject. Often, children like certain subjects because of the teachers who handle them. Teachers are often great sources of inspiration.

Only Child’s Realtionship With Teachers

Only children have a better rapport with adults and elders around them rather than with their peers. An only child has a way of attracting attention and affection from the adults around him. Only children warm up to their teachers faster and gain attention from them earlier than other children. Though this is a positive trait worthy of nurturing, with time this desire for attention may prove irksome to the teacher. The teacher may get weary of the child.

Watch out…

Parents who recognize this positive trait (of being able to relate to adults better) in their child must take steps to prevent an overbearing behavior from the child towards his teacher. Without impacting this positive trait, and in order to preserve this unique quality, parents can speak to their child gently about it and moderate his behavior before it becomes an annoying pattern at school. You can tell your child that-

A teacher has many children to attend to and it is important that she appears impartial in everyone’s eyes. When she is unable to pay special attention to him (the child), it does not mean that she does not care for him but that she just has too many demands on her and she has to attend to them one by one.

A teacher is not the same as other adults in the child’s life. They are not the same as a neighbor or a relative. The teacher’s way of expressing affection may not be the same as other adults known to the child.

Additionally, parents can speak to the teacher about this unique trait of their child to get along well with adults. Without defining this behavior as a quality of an only child, parents can sensitize the teacher to their child’s ability to warm up to adults faster and request to handle the child accordingly or as she deems fit.

Spot The Good Teacher

Have a casual chat with your child’s school teacher. How does she come across to you? Does she inspire confidence in you that she would foster good values and habits in your child? Ask her openly about what she thinks of your child. Assess if her observations are anywhere close to the original nature of your child. Do you feel you can give importance to her opinions or is she way off from understanding your child?

Speak about an issue regarding your child that is of concern to you. How does she respond? Are her suggestions and insight mature and neutral?

Keeping in regular touch with the school, its ideals and hopes for its students and keeping close contact with teachers who work with your child will enable you to maximize the role of the teacher in your only child’s life.

 Posted by at 10:14 am
Feb 062008

When You Want Your Only One To Be Number One?

In the absence of a sibling, all of the parents’ attention is focused on the only child- which is natural. But the problem starts when this attention becomes overbearing- an only child constantly runs the risk of being weighed down by his parents’ expectations.

When a parent has only one child to vest all dreams and ambitions in, the parent sometimes can become demanding, knowingly or unknowingly. So much so that the only child is cornered into playing ‘multiple roles and tasks’ to fulfill his parents varied expectations. It is easy for parents to fall into the stereotypical mode of raising an only child.

Here is a list of ‘usual traps’ parents of only children may fall into. Find if you are in it or out of it. Take the reality check.

Are You Trying To Raise A Superman?

If it is economics that has driven you to stop with just one child, then chances are that you are sparing no effort to put your child through the best of schools and the best of talent training centers in order to give him a head start in life. You are possibly engaging your only child in many activities to make him ‘simply superior’ than his peers (which you may believe he already is!). Parents get disappointed when their child is unable to cope with the demanding schedule.

Reality Check: What you want for your child may not be the best for him. Also your assessment of his potential and capability may not be in tandem with the child’s true capacity.

Are Your Great Expectations Making A Pip Out Of Your Child?

Remember the protagonist Pip of the novel Great Expectations. Well, he was rather alone and miserable. Are your great expectations making a Pip out of your only child? Some parents openly state their high expectations from their child. Many don’t- yet they tend to communicate it nonverbally through grunts, frowns and even silence. Children are very sensitive to what their parents expect of them and can end up feeling inferior or unaccomplished when achievements don’t match up to their parents’ benchmark. It is more important to raise a child who feels secure, loved and cherished within the family.

Reality Check: Are your expectations normal and reasonable? Is your only child under pressure to fulfill your expectations of him? Are you offering him sufficient unconditional love or is your affection based on his ‘performance’?

Are You A ‘Star-Parent?’

As opposed to parents who want to push their children to attain their optimum capability, there are parents who believe that their children are born prodigies. They try their best to showcase their children’s talent to the world. We find parents who push and prod their ‘prodigies’ into specific fields of art or athletics with a gusto that is rather scary. It is not rare to see parents who dream of their ‘gifted child’ being a naturalist or a historian the moment the child expresses interest in going to a zoo or a museum!

Reality Check: Are you pursuing your ‘star dreams’ in the interest of the child or are you vicariously living out your own long lost dream?

The ‘Less Is More’ Syndrome

As opposed to star parents and parents who are bent on raising a super child are parents who turn a blind eye to their child’s pitfalls and shortcomings. To them, their child is ‘perfect’ and the child cannot be made any better than what he already is. Those parents who suffer the ‘less is more’ syndrome usually ignore their child’s bad grades, indulge him excessively and excuse his bad behavior (after all they find it cute!) Somewhere these parents want to be ‘popular’ with their only child and allow for any kind of behavior as they don’t want any kind of conflict or confrontation. They would rather brush all vital issues under the carpet rather than address them.

Reality Check: Children who are not given goals often drift away and do not grow to be responsible citizens. It is vital to be a guide and an example to the child and help him in setting realistic goals and achieving his potential. Aiming too low for your child may prove detrimental for him and he may grow up aimless and indolent. A good parent is not someone who accedes to every whim of the child but someone who encourages the child towards positive and productive engagement.

Raising A Barbie?

Are you trying to raise a child who holds her fork perfectly, speaks like an adult and knows how to conduct herself like a lady? Chances are you are ruining her childhood despite your best intentions. Allowing your child to act her age is one of the best gifts you can offer as a parent. Bringing up a “grown up lady” at the age of six and seven will only make your child emotionally stunted and abnormal.

Reality Check: Dirty face, soggy socks, soiled finger nails are the indicators that your child is getting some well deserved ‘childlike’ fun. Do not intrude into their childhood. They will have enough growing up to do later. Parents are not in a child-rearing competition to assess who has the best child in the neighborhood. You want a child and not a plastic Barbie, do you?

 Posted by at 8:09 am
Feb 062008

Are You Raising A Stereotypical Only Child

Research affirms that irrespective of the size of a family or number of children, parents can foster healthy attitudes and nurture a child such that he grows up to be a balanced individual. More often than not, it is the parents of only children who tend to be over-indulgent and over-anxious, hence running the risk of “turning myths about only children into self-fulfilling prophecies” according to psychologist Patricia Nachman.

When parents raise their only child in a manner similar to what the myths have been propagating- that is in an over-indulgent, over-anxious, over-protective and over-expectant way, the child grows up to be the stereotypical only child- spoiled , selfish, dependent and lonely. This can happen with children from multi-kids families too, but people tend to notice and point it out more readily when it happens with an only child!


Parents of only children may be tempted to smother their ‘one and only’ with all kinds of gifts and rewards- whether the occasion demands it or not. The line of reasoning often goes lie this: “I after all have only one child and why shouldn’t I give her the best of everything?, or, “Why shouldn’t I make her feel special with some gifts now and then?”

The Impact Of Overindulgence: Only children who are over indulged with rewards and gifts without earning it grow up with an unrealistic image of themselves. They may interpret the act of receiving abundant gifts as “I am so good that I deserve this all the time”.

Solution: If you are an overindulgent parent, then it is time for you to pause and ensure that it is either an occasion or a particular commendable act that is attracting the act of giving a gift. You don’t want a child on your hands who will end up thinking, “I am their only child and they damn well get me all that I want”.


When parents see their child playing on his own, they worry that he is lonely. In their eagerness to provide playmates and friends for their only child, parents sometimes intrude into their child’s “time alone”. This eagerness is also partly to assuage their own ‘guilt’ that they have not provided a permanent playmate to their only child in the form of a sibling.

Most parents of only children display an over-eagerness in keeping their child constantly engaged and ensuring that he is always happy and amused. If this is one kind of over-eagerness, the other is to constantly watch over their ward and stand in ready attention to smooth out things for him and step in if things get difficult for their child.

Impact Of Over Eagerness: “All pervasive” helicopter parents who cater to every stated and unstated whim cause the child to lose his private space and have problems finding his own feet.

When the parents are available constantly, the child may get confused about his identity and fail to see where his persona ends and his parents’ roles begin. The child will also tend to wait for his parents to intervene when things don’t go his way with playmates. What was convenient for him as a child will turn into a nuisance when he reaches his adolescent years. The child will resent the ever-alert state of his parents and hate their intrusion into every space of his.

Solution: While it is good to be an aware and thoughtful parent who assesses if the child is comfortable and happy, overdoing it is hardly helpful. Do not be over or under-available for your child. Be aware of the child’s entitlement to privacy and respect it.


Whenever something goes wrong with the conduct or well being of their only child, parents tend to over-analyze and get over-anxious about the whole thing. Be it bedwetting or shyness or even poor grades at school, parents of only children often ‘work’ at the problem to such an extent that it could get blown out of proportion.

Studies indicate that some parents even cite ‘lack of a sibling’ as the cause for all these problems. In the child’s later years, the parents may express their over-anxiety by imposing tight curfews or try to chaperone their adolescent child constantly. Over-anxiety is simply the predecessor of over-protection. Both are detrimental to the child’s balanced growth.

Impact Of Over-Anxiety: Children can sense parental anxiety even when it is non verbal. Parents’ anxiety will directly impact a child’s confidence and make him extremely precautious and in some cases slow to action too. Unexplained fear of physical and emotional hurt is reported in high degrees in children whose parents have been over-anxious. In the growing years, the child may turn rebellious against his over-anxious parents.

Solution: A relaxed approach to child upbringing is vital in making the child confident and secure in his steps. Don’t burden your child with your notions of stress and anxiety. Allow your child a reasonable amount of independence as she grows.

Do not threaten dire consequences each time your child ventures to climb a tree or slide down the stairs or go trekking with friends. You are not bringing up a coward and neither do you want to! Do not over-protect or under-protect your child. Be watchful of your anxiety lest it gets the better of you.


My only child is nothing less than perfect. Whatever he does is impeccable and just too marvelous- does that describe your feelings?

Impact Of Over-Praise: What a parent must understand is that excessive and ‘unearned’ praise could backfire and make the child addicted to praise and give him an unrealistic notion of his own capacity and talent.

Also, as the child grows and compares himself with other children, his parents’ ‘praise’ for his ‘enormous talent’ may not pass muster with him and fail the reality test. In such cases, the child may revert to feeling small and unsure of his own capacity since his parents’ assessment of him obviously did not match up with his peers’ and teachers’ judgment of him.

Solution: Moderate your praise. It is more important to be genuine than extravagant. It is vital that your child should look forward to a ‘real picture’ from you rather than from the outside world. Instead of saying his painting is simply ‘gorgeous’, you could temper it down and say the color combinations are pretty or that he is improving. Don’t fail to praise him where praise is due and acknowledge small achievements as well. The key is to find things to praise him about and then do it moderately.


Parents’ aspiration for their child can be both a boon and a burden. While it is indeed a parents’ duty to expect the best out of a child and set him worthy goals to achieve, it becomes a burden on the child when there is a discrepancy between the parents’ expectation and the child’s capacity.

Impact Of Over-Expectation: The more you want to raise a super child, the more the chances of your child losing his childhood in piano and tennis lessons. When you insist on your child taking a particular path, it may well turn out that it is not his path. In the long run, it may prove frustrating and difficult for your child. A sense of failure and dissatisfaction may set in, which in later years may cause irreparable damage.

Solution: The best way to give your child worthy goals, yet keep a reality check on your expectations, is to allow the child to lead the way. Parents can nourish their child’s goals by helping him sustain interest in his dream by providing supportive encouragement, and therein lies the difference between true guidance and pressurizing.

 Posted by at 8:06 am
Feb 062008

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.

 Posted by at 8:04 am
Feb 062008

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.

Early Interactivity

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.

Fixing playmates

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.

Lifelong friendships

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.”

 Posted by at 8:02 am
Feb 062008

Time Alone For Your Only Child

If you are one of those parents who feels guilty about an evening without a playmate or a play-engagement for your only child- then this article is for you.

An example

Consider the case of Rachmans. The couple could never agree on the issue of time alone for their only child. While Judy, the mother, could never rest easy while watching her child play alone, Donald believed that their child Laura would indeed benefit from time alone. Which one of them is right?

A common feeling

Many parents of only children feel unease and unrest while watching their only child play alone. Either they immediately try to fix up play engagements for their child or pitch in and offer to stand in as playmates themselves.

While playing with your child can indeed be an enriching experience for both parent and child, one cannot really match up to being a child’s peer. On the other hand, one should not shy away from giving the only child some time alone in the name of keeping loneliness at bay for him. “I think it is guilt,” says Laurel. “When I see my only child play alone, I wonder to myself- ‘if only I had given my son Michael a brother or sister to play with, would he have been so alone?” The key word here is guilt. Many parents of only children feel guilt over not giving their child a sibling to play with.

Sibling rivalry is real…

As mentioned in other places, in many families, siblings don’t even see eye to eye- leave alone play together. And it is an impractical idea to bring forth another child just so your child may have ‘someone to play with and not be lonely’. What studies repeatedly drive at is that a sibling is hardly a solution to the problems the only child may face.

Being alone is not bad

Parents have many means of filling up a child’s time- like enrolling him in various classes, getting him to participate in team activities and so on. But more often than not, parents fail to value a child’s “time alone”. What is time alone? It is a time the child gets at his disposal to use how he pleases. (It does not mean the child is left alone in the house without parental attention!). During time alone, the child learns how to fill the time at his hands, without seeking aid from parents, peers or friends. It is not the same as being lonely. Rather, it is an opportunity to “be with oneself”.

The Only Child can enjoy time alone

Very often, children and adults alike sparkle in company but fail to make the grade when they are left on their own. On the other hand, studies indicate that children who know how to fill their time alone learn to engage themselves and rarely feel isolated or lonely.

It is a capacity they build for themselves to be content with the situation at hand and be able to use the time in a way that gives them pleasure and joy. “It is heartwarming to watch my child Bonnie play on her own. She celebrates imaginary birthday parties with her toy friends, has fun with her paints and serves us tea in her tiny cups. She has a way of keeping herself engaged. It is good to see that,” says Mona, proud mom of a five year old only child.

Important skills only children learn from having time alone

  • Your only child will get creative when he finds that he has to find a way to fill his time. He may find joy in play-acting or creating games he can play alone.
  • He will learn not to complain of boredom. Many children expect to be entertained all the time. Children who have their time alone know what to do with themselves and not get bored.
  • It is an acquisition for a lifetime, wherein the child will not seek continual emotional or peer support and knows how to ‘be with oneself’. As he grows older, this ability to be with oneself will stand him in good stead.
  • Time alone will help him appreciate time with others. He will truly relish other’s company and learn to treat his friends and peers more tenderly. He will truly understand the value of companionship as he has experienced time alone.
  • The most important benefit of having time alone is the child will never feel ‘lonely’ now or as an adult when he has to be alone. He will in fact find creative ways to fill that time.
 Posted by at 7:51 am