If your three-year-old is an only child, you may be worried that he will be more comfortable in the company of adults than he is with children his own age, that he’ll feel lonely and unhappy with no brothers or sisters to play with at home, and that he’ll have problems with learning to share.
Yet evidence from research confirms that an only child is usually just as happy as any other child, is just as self-confident, has just as many friends, and is just as capable of sharing as a child with siblings – if he is guided by his parents.
Learning to share
Of course, there are some single children who have difficulties mixing with their peers, but that is certainly not an inevitable outcome of having no siblings. To avoid your only child aged three or four years from developing into a spoilt child who expects to get his own way all the time, and who has problems mixing with other child, concentrate on the following strategies:
Teach your only child basic – but essential – social skills. For instance, encourage him to share his toys and possessions with his friends, neighbours, and other children in the preschool he attends. He may find this especially difficult because he is used to having everything for himself. Teach your single child how to share, using two methods.
First, explain to him why he should share. Use reasons that are meaningful to a child his age, for example, that sharing gives everyone a turn with the toys, or that other children will like him better when he shares his toys with them. Second, show him alternatives. When you see your four-year-old 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. Far better to show your single child that his friend can play with the toy for a few minutes, then he can.
Turn-taking is an important social skill to teach an only child. The ability to wait while others receive attention does not come naturally to most children, especially not to a single child; this has to be learned. There are many opportunities at home for teaching this social skill to your four-year-old. Waiting a couple of minutes to tell you a piece of news, or waiting till you and your partner gets a biscuit before he does, allows your child to experience turn-taking as a normal part of family life.
Play social games
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 the other social skills, the ability to follow rules can be learned at home. Play games that involve rules with your single child, and explain to him why they should be followed. If he learns this through playing games with you, the chances are that he will be able to follow rules when playing games with his friends.
There is no doubt that an only child has less opportunities to mix with others; that stands to reason, given that he is the only child in the family. So enrol him in a parent-and-toddler group, playgroup or nursery, if you can. Mixing with other children builds his social confidence. And if you can’t manage to send him to any of these groups, invite other children to your house for him to play with.