Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Your choice to have just one child doesn’t mean your tot will automatically be lonely. While it’s true that there may be times when he longs for the company of other children his own age, this applies as well to kids who have brothers and sisters. And even if he wasn’t an only child, there is no guarantee he and his siblings would all play well together – being one of two, three or more can be just as lonely at times.
However, your only child may start to complain to you that he is lonely, especially after he begins mixing with others at playgroup or nursery. That’s when he suddenly realises that some children have brothers and sisters, while he doesn’t have a family structure that is similar to everybody else’s.
Of course, he doesn’t consider that there may be a downside to sharing Mum and Dad’s attention with others, or that he may not get on with his siblings. He fantasises that the other children with brothers and sisters are having a better time than he is at home, and he voices his anxieties about feeling lonely. He simply needs to say this once or twice before you start to feel guilty. Fortunately, there are lots you can do to make sure your single child doesn’t lose out.
To begin, make sure he has the opportunity to develop key social skills at home. A child who has brothers and sisters normally learns about turn-taking, sharing and following rules from mixing with them at home day after day. Your only child doesn’t have these experiences, so it is up to you to help him develop social habits.
For instance, play games with him in which he has to follow rules, make him wait his turn when you are serving food at the dinner table, and encourage him to share his sweets and toys with you and your partner. This partly compensates for his lack of social interactions with siblings at home. If he can learn these essential social techniques from you, he will find mixing with his peers much easier.
KEEP HIM BUSY
Arrange activities so that the company of siblings at home is replaced with the company of his peers in other contexts. Organised activities that are supervised by adults are best because they are more structured than free play situations. Your single child will find these easier to manage, until his social confidence and social skills build up. Find out about any groups for children of similar age in your local area, check them out by speaking to the group leaders and the other parents, then take him along. Stay with him to help him settle.
You can also help your single child beat loneliness by making use of his cousins or your friends’ kids who are around the same age. Invite these children to your home during the week or at weekends – the more often, the better. Mixing with cousins the same age is just as enjoyable for your child as mixing with children he is not related to. Through such contact, any loneliness will quickly fade.
Your child may also have friends from playgroup or nursery whom you can invite over so that they can play together. Invite their parents to come along too, as children this age don’t usually settle easily in someone else’s house. Have realistic expectations – just because he feels lonely doesn’t mean that he will get on well with others straight away. He may need time to learn how to play with them.
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