There are joys and difficulties in raising one child. Children who have no siblings do not necessary turn out to be selfish and spoilt. They can be more matured for their age and kind to others. Of course, there are those ‘only child’ persons who are reputed to be notoriously demanding and bossy.
It is up to parents to foster and nourish positive qualities in their children who have no siblings. According to Alfred Aldler, known for his work on birth order and the development of personalities, only children tend to get along well with people much older than themselves and are able to carry out tasks beyond their years.
Studies show that only children often score high in their achievement tests. They are also high on their sociability. These are results of positive parenting. Parents have a lot to do with raising only children who do not have to grow up to be self-centred and self-indulgent.
Many children growing up as an only child have found their ‘sibling relationship’ in their parents or close friends. Parents can encourage their children to develop friendships with other children in the neighbourhood and plan play dates with school friends.
It is true that only children can feel lonely at times. My soon-to-be six-year-old nephew once asked me if he could ‘borrow’ my elder daughter. He said, “I have no one to play with me at home. My mummy is busy all the time. If she (my daughter) comes home with me tonight, tomorrow I can play with her all day long.”
Parents can do a good job in raising their only children to be responsible and confident. To do so, they have to resist to interfere with every aspect of their growing up. Once safety and health are taken care of, let the only child develop his own way of doing things for himself. In a family of many children, parents have limited time with each child. They allow their children some time and space of their own to do their own growing up.
Refrain from doing everything for your child. Allow your only child to do things for himself whenever it is possible. Children with self-help skills tend to be more confident and happier. They feel like they are equal to their adults in the family when they can do their part to contribute.
Find ways to share decision-making with your only child. This can help the young child learn to take responsibility for his own actions and behaviour. Children also find it easier to cope with their disagreements with their parents when they are allowed some control over what they do and say.
One parent asked me about her four-year-old son’s eating problem. She told me that it is a struggle at mealtimes for her three-member family. He would refuse to eat the food piled up on his plate. She wanted to know how to get him to eat. I suggested that she looked for a family with many children to place him there for meals. In such an environment, he would find it hard to resist food when there are so many mouths feeding on a limited supply.
In the family, the only child must also learn limits and boundaries. He may be the only child in the family but he must also learn to take turns. For example, when daddy is watching his movie, he has to wait for the movie to complete before he can insist on putting his cartoon on. It is important that only children spend time in families with multiple children. This way he learns from an early age how to take turns and share with others.
Maintaining discipline with an only child can be quite a challenge for many parents. It takes perseverance and a great deal of understanding. Instead of giving in, despite your child’s protests, you stand firmly and let him know that the rule stays. “No means no” used in a reasonable manner can be a good lesson for only children to learn.
With only children, parents often find themselves in the pitfall of expecting a great deal from their one child. This can put pressure on the only child to perform. Be reasonable in your expectations. Only children cannot be everything their parents hope for. They need to be themselves and follow their own dreams. Once, this message is clear to the children, they will do well in whatever they pursue happily and surely.
The ‘Only Child Syndrome’ on the flipside means these children grow up to be overly-indulgent people who find it hard to get along with others. Then again, many only children have made the best of their situation and succeeded in life. People like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Franklin Roosevelt, Alan Greenspan, Lauren Bacall have made a mark with their lifetime contributions to mankind.
Ruth Liew is an expert in early childhood education, child development, parenting, and child care. She is also an author and a columnist.