…And Baby Made Three

There are a rising number of parents choosing to have one child. The reasons for this are as varied as the families who are making the choice. After having children, parents realize that love and joy fill a home when a child arrives–regardless of the number of children in the home.

More recent research on the only child has found that he tends to match his peers academically, emotionally and socially. His character traits tend to be similar to the oldest child in a multi-child household.  For instance, there is a tendency to be a rule follower, work diligently towards perfection and take on a lot of responsibility. Only children are as equally likely as children with siblings to have social success and emotional fortitude.  We as parents, however, tend to want to be sure that our only child is able to meet his peers confidently when social situations occur.  Multi-child families do have an ever-present arena in which to address peer relations, and parents of only children will be providing a gift to their children if they can actively seek out experiences for their child to engage with peers in the same way.

The staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center have some tried and true strategies for encouraging social competence and resiliency which can work for all children–whether they have siblings or not. Parents of only children will note that some of these strategies, though helpful for all, are directed mostly at you.  Families of three often have questions that need answering and aren’t always able to get them addressed–and so this post is for you!

1. Rest assured that many of your child’s actions are stemming from his development–they are not a direct result of being an only child.  For instance, if you have a young child who tends to pull on your arm and demand all of your attention, please note that this is what all young children do. He is not necessarily doing so because he is an only child. If you had a family of four children, you would have four children pulling on your arm and demanding your attention–it is a developmentally normal behavior.

2. When you notice that your child is struggling with something, take a moment to acknowledge that the task looks difficult but do not step in to help immediately.  As adults it is always easier for us to take care of things, but our only child needs to work through the frustrating task in order to get through it and feel a sense of success.  It is best to state “That looks really hard. Let me know if you need help.”  Then count to at least 20 before you say something else.

3. Children do not share with others naturally until around three and a half or four years old.  However, long before that age they are watching us to learn about which behaviors are appropriate in different situations. Model sharing whenever possible–either by sharing between adult and child or between adults. Be sure to take advantage of opportunities that arise to “take turns”, even if it isn’t absolutely necessary for you to take a turn.  For instance, if a child is playing with a toy ask your child for a turn at playing with the toy. After playing for a bit, hand the toy back to the child so he can play some more. Modeling the behavior will teach the behavior.  There is some evidence to show that only children can be better sharers later in life because they have had this modeling, and because they haven’t had a need for really insisting on “mine” around siblings–the adults in their life tend to hand over what the child wants–there is that modeling again!

4. Encourage free play in social groups whenever possible. Be sure to find unstructured play groups, rather than subject classes taught by adults (such as music class or art class; these classes have a beneficial place in our schedules, but they do not allow the child to play freely with others).  The free play with other children creates an arena where they will have to compromise, problem solve and handle conflict. When your child is in these social situations, do your best to allow them to solve the inevitable problems that arise.  If both children are safe, allow them to work out a solution–even if you see the solution disappoints your own child sometimes. Handling this disappointment will help them to build resiliency, and teach them how to approach the problem for a better result next time.  Often times children, when left to their own devices, will come up with a solution to a problem that is ingenious and acceptable to all parties.

5. Role play tricky situations with your older child.  If you see that during a play date your child has a hard time sticking up for himself when another child grabs a toy from him, give him statements and actions he can use to have a more confident approach. Teaching him to say “Let’s take turns” or “This is mine, I will let you have it when I am done” can give him the confidence he needs to deal effectively with his peers the next time. In addition, role playing situations where he wants to join the play is also beneficial. Giving him the words to invite himself into the game will help him to do so in the play group. For instance,  “You are playing house. I will be the father.”

Whether you have chosen to have one child or more, enjoy the time you have with them!

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