Dr Richard C. Woolfson
If your three-year-old is an only child, you may worry that he’ll have difficulty socialising with her peers. While there are some only children who struggle in the company of others their own age, you can nudge him in the right direction.
Teach your child basic social skills. For instance, encourage him to share his toys and possessions, using two methods. First, explain to him why he should share. Use reasons that are meaningful to a child his age; for example, that it gives everyone a chance to play with the toys, or that other children will like him better if he shares his toys with them.
It’s my turn
Second, show him alternatives. When you see your preschooler argue with one of his pals over who is allowed to play with a particular toy, you may be tempted to remove the toy from him altogether as a punishment. But this will only teach him how to fight quietly without attracting your attention. It’s far better to show that his friend can play with the toy for a few minutes, and then he can.
Turn-taking is important too. The ability to wait while others receive attention does not come naturally to most children, especially not to an only child; this has to be learnt. There are many opportunities to teach this at home.
Waiting a couple of minutes to tell you a piece of news, or waiting till you get a biscuit before he does, allows your child to experience turn-taking as a normal part of family life.
Likewise, a child cannot join in games with his friends unless he is able to follow the rules. Your only child may have difficulty with this because he has less experience playing with others, compared to children from larger families who have brothers and sisters around them all the time.
As with other social skills, the ability to follow rules can be learnt at home. Play games that involve rules with your only child, and explain why they should be followed.
Look who’s coming over
Arrange activities so he has the company of his peers. Organised events that are supervised by adults are best because they are more structured than free play situations.
Your only child will find these easier to manage, until his social confidence and skills build up. Find out about the groups for children aged three and four in your neighbourhood, check them out by speaking to the group leaders and to the other parents, and then take him along. Stay with him to help him settle in.
You can also help your only child learn how to socialise by making use of his cousins or of your friends’ children who are around the same age. Invite these kids over to your house on weekends – the more often you do this, the better.
Don’t forget to include their parents too, as children this age don’t usually settle easily in someone else’s house. Have realistic expectations – he may need time to learn how to play with them.
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