I receive a lot of emails from parents who have only one child and feel they are being pressurised into having more. They are often labeled selfish and are made to feel they are doing a terrible thing. Bringing up a child, with or without siblings, is a challenging experience, and we can get it right or wrong either way. Having more children does not guarantee happiness for anyone. Having an only child has its own challenges both for parents’ and the child itself.
Ultimately I think it’s best to have the number of children that suits your family. One, or more than one, which ever is best for you. The problems only children can experience being an only one can easily be counteracted, by ensuring that they are not over-protected and are given lots of opportunities to interact with other children. I would never encourage any one to have a second child – just to give the first one a brother or sister.
The following are my sixteen suggestions to help parents’ do the best to bring up their only child, in a such a way that both enables and encourages. That way the child will be able to develop their personality and not be overly impinged by the adult world they find themselves in.
1. Let your child be a child and don’t expect them to be a ‘little adult’. (Some popular books for parents of onlies do suggest encouraging this behaviour – I disagree they need to be children with other children.)
2. Don’t overcompensate for the lack of a sibling with too many ‘goodies’, only children have to put up with enough envy without making it worse!
3. Don’t tell your child you are not going to spoil them, because you will probably make them feel they are loosing out. You are also making the negative only child stereotype their problem - just don’t overindulge on a regular basis.
4. Don’t tell your child they are lucky not to have a sibling – even if you believe it! It may be true for you but don’t assume your child has the same feelings.
5. Make sure your child has plenty of children to play with, to stay with, and let them do these things without you, from an early age.
6. Encourage your child to join groups etc so they can interact with lots of different children with interests similar to theirs.
7. Make sure your child goes to a school with both sexes.
8. Don’t overprotect your child or expect too much independence too early.
9. Don’t expect your child to fulfill your thwarted ambitions or assume what you like is what they will like.
10. Make a big effort to let your child separate from you psychologically and this may also mean financially, as they get into their teens.
11. Ensure you do not become enmeshed with your child: – assuming their needs are the same as yours. i.e. the mother who bought her daughter a pony because she always wanted one as a child!
12. Encourage your child to take responsibility for aspects of their life and be aware that many only children feel overly responsible for their parents well being.
13. Remember your child will be much more sensitive to your needs than you may imagine – so let them know you have a life outside of them. Parents with more than one child can more easily diffuse this sense of their needs being met by their children. This is particularly pertinent if you are a single parent.
14. Make your child sometimes wait for things they want, or you will set up expectations of instant gratification which is hard for them to unlearn once they have relationships.
15. Teach your child how to share … not with you … but with other children!
16. Don’t encourage your child to be the centre of attention – it can be very painful when they go out into the real world.