Deborah Chia is an only child. So when the she stopped at just one kid, her son naturally became the apple of Grandma’s eye. “Mark loves $1 coins, so my mother always has a bagful whenever we meet. Worse, she opens her purse and asks him what colour he likes. Opportunist that he is, he picks blue – the $50 note – and gets it!” she recalls.
Deborah’s anecdote illustrates one of the many challenges parents of an only child face.
And their numbers are growing, judging from figures by the Singapore Department of Statistics. In 2014, 21.6 per cent of ever-married female citizens or permanent residents aged between 40 and 49 have just one child. This is close to double the 11.9 per cent in 1994. Those in the 40-to-49 age group are likely to have completed their child-bearing, said the Population Trends 2015 report released by the Department of Statistics.
Here are 4 challenges that one child families face, and how you can prevent your only child from becoming a spoiled brat.
CHALLENGE #1: WHY SHOULD I SHARE?
The single child who interacts only with his parents isn’t used to playing with others. He struggles with compromise, and may withdraw and become shy. He may even lash out in frustration because other children aren’t playing the way he wants them to.
Dr Kevin Leman, author of The Birth Order Book: Why You Are The Way You Are, agrees that some kids who are the only child have a hard time learning how to negotiate or employ tact. “Only children tend to project their thoughts, feelings and motives onto others. As a parent, it’s important that you discipline your child, showing him that he can’t get away with inexcusable behaviour.”
Lim Hui Fang has met some “singletons” that are thoughtful and have good social skills. But she realises that her eight-year-old needs to be given opportunities to learn how to get along, work and share with others. “We’ve started sending Bryan to overnight holiday camps where he has to share bunks, live, eat and work with other children,” says the stay-at-home mum.
Deborah admits: “No matter what you teach an only child, he knows at the end of the day he has your undivided attention, and gets to keep the toys he shared during the day. These are heady realisations for any child! However, I believe that self-centredness, selfishness or an inability to relate to peers is prevalent in multi-children households as well.”
So, as early as possible, have some items for sharing. When other children visit, have your child practise taking turns to play with the toys. Make this a fixed activity that he’s aware of and anticipates. Include other children when planning activities and welcome them into your home. This shows that company is valued and respected.
Being around children of various ages will also develop his socials skills to manage older or younger children. For example, he’ll learn that an older friend can help him with homework, while a younger friend needs help eating with a spoon.
Arrange situations where he can learn to relate to an infant or a toddler. Let him attend workshops for a varied age group – for example, an arts and craft class where older children can help the younger ones cut or glue.
Geraldine Tan, principal psychologist at The Therapy Room, says: “He also learns that he’s not the centre of the world and that there are others who require sensitivity and empathy.”
Related story: Teach your only child social skills
CHALLENGE #2: I CANNOT DO IT BY MYSELF
As a parent of an only child, you’re probably going to devote a lot of time to his needs. While this may mean he can master some skills quicker than he would on his own, it can also mean he never learns how to do anything by himself.
Geraldine notes how first-time parents expect a lot from themselves, and these weigh down on their child as well. “So an only child may feel the weight of his parents’ expectations on him,” she says. “When it’s time to ‘let go’ a little – especially during the school-going years – the parent may not feel ready to admit that the child is capable of making decisions on his own.”
Geraldine warns that this insecurity creates a sense of dependency in the child. “For any child to learn independence, it is vital that when he falls, he learns to stand up on his own, in order to learn to fend for himself,”