Socializing Only Children

My daughter is the light of my eyes, the joy of my heart, and the love of my life. She is also my one and only. As such, she has always received—for better or worse—every bit of my maternal affection and devotion.

I am an Only Child raising an Only Child. Having been on both sides of this particular spectrum, I have heard the gloom and doom whispers about Only Children being spoiled brats, unable to communicate effectively with other children. I have been pitied for my lack of siblings and censured for not providing my daughter with a brother or sister. While I personally find most of those judgments to be annoyingly preposterous, there is a bene t to socializing any child early.  I grew up in a neighborhood full of adults and animals, yet without a child in sight. I had no cousins until I turned eight years of age. As a result, my imaginary friends had imaginary friends. In fact, I had an entire community of make believe cohorts and each one came with his or her own history, family and village! This lack of socialization with “real life” peers contributed to my pediatrician’s recommendation that I wait an extra year to begin kindergarten, as he considered me “emotionally and socially immature.” My parents wisely followed his advice. The wait may have helped, but starting school was profoundly difficult for me, despite the valiant preparatory efforts of my stay-at-home mother.

It is possible, however, to avoid this “lonely Only” mentality. Parents should begin by teaching that dif cult, yet valued, art of sharing. When playing with your child, divide up blocks and take turns with each set. Model this behavior by giving and sharing with other adults in the child’s presence. Offer approval each time your little one graciously offers up an item. Always choose praise over admonishment.

Once you have this process rolling, it is time to begin scheduling playdates. Parks and playlands are marvelous starting points, leading to having friends over to your home. I refer to this as “renting a sibling,” and it is a valuable tool because Only Children do not usually have to share their own spaces or belongings. Simply adding another child to the comforting zone of an Only’s bedroom can be challenging to the little one unused to such a situation. My daughter was thrilled to have a friend over, but when her pal began rifling through her toy chest, her entire demeanor became unsure and edgy. She was willing to share, but having another tyke take control of her space was a foreign and uncomfortable concept. Over time, this lessened, and the two had a splendid day together.

Another significant device is to become aware of your child’s interests—not yours –and build upon them. Search out classes or playgroups devoted to these interests and introduce your child to them. Even adults tend to migrate toward people with mutual interests, and what better way to help a child “make friends” than to surround them with similarly minded children?

It is crucial to avoid compelling your child into any situation. Introduce, yes. Push, no. My daughter has always been an introvert. Forcing her into an overwhelming social transition would only have resulted in fear, discomfort and a lack of trust between us. It is appropriate to encourage, but respecting boundaries with a child is as vital as with an adult. Children do no —and should not—fall into cookie-cutter molds based on birth order, sex, age, parents’ interests, et cetera. I have seen “Onlies” that are beautifully imaginative, whimsical artists while others are pragmatic, outgoing leaders.

Being aware of both the rewarding and detracting factors of being an Only Child, I was blessed to create a fun mother/ playmate relationship with my daughter, while still maintaining the normal expectations of a parent. Many parents are concerned with the idea of being a friend to their child. While being a parent always comes first, Onlies do not have the built-in companionship of a sibling. It can be tricky to forge such a multi-faceted relationship, but the rewards are beyond comprehension. While it may not be functional for every family, this has continued into my daughter’s teenage years and works beautifully for us. While each child and relationship is different, the bond between a parent and their Only is a precious, incredible gift.

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