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Seven Tips for Raising an Only Child

Part Two in my Only Child series  – How to help your ‘Only’ not be lonely.

Undoubtedly the most noticeable drawback for the young ‘only’ child is the absence of a sibling playmate.  This often leads to heightened demands for parents to be the child’s primary playmate. As fatigue can be a major factor for older mothers of a young ‘only’ child, life can be a whole lot more tiring if your only child’s world revolves totally around You.

Here are some tips to help your only not be lonely and ones that’ll help take the pressure off you.

Remember: Before you can do anything you have to loosen the apron strings. Separating yourself from your child is not only healthy – it’s what sane parents do from time to time. Everyone needs time apart – it diffuses tension, recharges batteries and makes you a more rounded parent.

1 – Welcome!: Having friends to play at your home can be a win/win situation. Your child has kiddy-company and you don’t have to be totally separated from them. Create a kid-friendly, fun environment that your child’s friends will love to visit. As Kevin Costner said in Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come”.  And you can bet your sweet baby bonus, they will.

 2 – Don’t use friends as punishment: Even though the threat of ‘not having a friend over to play’ can be a powerful punishment option, it’s better to choose a penalty that doesn’t deprive the only child of precious companionship.

3 – BYO friend: If you’re entertaining at home or planning an outing with a young only child – invite a little buddy along so they’ll have someone to play with. Go on holidays to places where there’s bound to be other children.  You can also get together with another family for a joint holiday. If you can’t find a family you know to holiday with, then reach out. There are many travel companies offering group family holiday packages – predominantly overseas – such as Peregrine and Trafalgar Tours.

4 – Play dates: Set up frequent and regular opportunities for your child to be with other children. Mix it up a bit and include older and younger children (siblings of your child’s same-aged friends) as this gives the only child the opportunity to learn (from older children) and teach (the littler ones) just like siblings have to. It helps them learn that not everyone plays the same way, teaches them sharing and cooperation as well as exposing them to activities outside their immediate age group.

5 – Make friends yourself: Get to know the parents of your child’s friends. This will make it easier to set up play dates and increase the chances of your child being invited to other children’s homes – both of which will help take the attention off you and give you time-out.  While research shows that the only child often performs better at school, do be careful not to boast about your child’s achievements to other parents as this will only work against you (and your child).

6 – Pet Pal: Get a soft pet – it adds another ‘member’ to the family. Whether it’s a dog, cat, rabbit or budgie – a furred or feathered creature is another warm body to hold and talk to. A pet also teaches an only child how to care for something other than themselves (a concept all children should learn).

7 – Sibling substitutes:  As often as you can, invite one of your child’s friends for a meal.  And if possible have them sleepover.  This creates a sense of comradeship and encourages your child to share toys, personal space and his parents. The extra child also creates a sibling-like experience at meal and bedtime and changes the family dynamic while exposing your child to other people’s habits and quirks.

Above all remember that every child is unique. Being an only child is part of who they are but it should not be used to define them. Their personality, likes and dislikes should be the driving factor in how you help your only not be lonely. Look for their queues and follow your heart.

Serena Kirby is the author of Better Late Than Never Baby – Becoming a Mother Later in Life. This article is part of a Three Part series on the only child. Sign up for this blog so you don’t miss next week’s final tips.


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2013-11-01 10:51:44 Reply

Hi Serena,

I think these are fantastic ideas not only for the only child but for every child. We have a 5 year gap between our first and second and introducing the friend dynamic in the house for our first before her sister came along helped her be ready for the change a sibling made.

What a great resource your blog is! Thank you.

    Serena Kirby

    2013-11-01 11:20:55 Reply

    Thank you for your comments Conrad. Yes, the tips I gave can be really good for a first child learning to prepare for a sibling. As the mother of an ‘only’ I never considered that. Thanks for your input. Kind Regards Serena.

Pip Brennan

2013-11-01 11:49:17 Reply

Great article as usual Serena! As a mother of an only, I would add, cultivate the cousin relationships. If you are lucky enough to have them. My own relationships with cousins are sometimes closer than siblings, and my daughter is blessed with 2 girl cousins her age who she really clicks with.

    Serena Kirby

    2013-11-01 11:57:50 Reply

    Great point Pip – yes totally agree cousins can be great sibling substitutes. I will add that to my next list of tips that I’ll circulate in a weeks time. Unfortunately for my son and I, due to my older age when he was born, his cousins were already teenagers and now they are having children of their own so for later life mums there can be a big age gap if both parents had children later than their siblings did. And BTW -Thanks so much for continuing to read my articles 🙂

Delwyn Napier

2013-11-03 14:04:15 Reply

Yes Serena, great article.
My ONLY is now 17yrs and the tides are turning…maybe we will be the lonely now!
We used Peregrine Travel many times for our overseas travel; found them to be fun for both our ONLY and ourselves with like minded people.
We also used Explore Travel for the teenage years between 13 – 17yrs.
Good luck Serena .

    Serena Kirby

    2013-11-03 14:10:58 Reply

    Thanks for the suggestion Delwyn. It seems like such a long way away to age 17 but I know it will come in a blink. Yes – I fear the loneliness when my only leaves home.

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