Life with an only child can get very interesting because all of our time and attention are focused on this one person. Mishka can come up with the funniest stories and interpret situations in ways that we never imagined. It got me thinking about what the impact of being an only child really is on her development now and in future.
So many couples have children later in life which makes it quite challenging and risky to have a big family. If I just go back to the time I was pregnant with our Mishka (I was 40 at the time) thinking how blessed I am to even be given a chance to fall pregnant. Worrying about a normal pregnancy, about a normal child to be honest. To go through all of that again in two years time just did not make sense to us, especially with chances of genetic disorders rapidly increasing from a age of 35.
Many other couples and even our families think we did Mishka an injustice to only have her, and that we were selfish in our decision. Perhaps it is true, but for us the other risks outweighed the risk of raising a “spoiled only child”. So we got creative and decided that we will make a concerted effort to make Mishka’s life interesting, fun filled and integrated.
That’s why I want to share my experiences with other single-child parents and let you know that it is possible to raise a well rounded, socially integrated only child if you pay attention to a few little things from the beginning.
1. Plenty of activities
This is where Ian and I come in, we make sure we have plenty of play time together. I enjoy outdoor activities like getting on our bicycles and exploring our neighbourhood. We run down to the beach and catch and release rockpool fish. Ian spends time with Mishka indoors after work, they spend hours building lego towns and villages. Sometimes when he is busy in the garage Mishka’s curiosity get the better of her and she has to know what he’s up to, so much so that she now has her own basic toolbox!
2. Pretend Play Kitchen, Doctor and Cleaning Sets
It also happens sometimes that we are just too tied up with work or other projects, but then Mishka knows how to keep herself busy. Only because we showed her how to pretend play and kitted her out with a backyard mud kitchen and gave her a mini cleaning set (no slavery I promise!).
3. Crafty activities
Get a crate together with a few craft activities. For girls it can be anything from tying strings of beads to making masks with cardboard and glitter. Have it stocked and handy, when boredom kicks in it’s a matter of finding a comfortable space and opening up that box to transpose them to a beautiful world of creativity and discovery.
4. Treasure Hunt
This takes a bit of effort from your side but the excitement and anticipation that go with this activity – Priceless! Get creative and have themes for the hunts. Make sure she learns something from it. Include her friends, maybe let her make an invitation for her closest two friends and make a play-date out of it.
5. Give only children the opportunity to interact with other kids
This can easily be done by enrolling your child for after school activities from an early age, this is a crucial time for your child to learn to socialise.
6. Teach your child social skills
This is very important as only children are very easily perceived as being selfish and reluctant to share. You can prevent this by making a point of teaching your child how to share with you and then with other kids or adults. Reward children when they’re being considerate and administer consequences when they aren’t.
7. Make a point of encouraging independence
It is very easy for you to make your child too reliant on you, it is just natural to protect and shelter your child, but unfortunately with an only child there is a very real danger of over protection. This can be avoided by being conscious of your actions and letting your child have fun on her own, give her some chores and responsibilities to emphasize her ability to function on her own (within reason of course).
8. Be careful with your expectations
Now this is easier said than done because after all this is your only chance to shine through your child, there is only one. Haha, jokes aside. Having unrealistic expectations of an only child is a very common pitfall we sometimes just can’t avoid. I am guilty myself, I sometimes expect Mishka to participate in every possible activity, just to make sure I haven’t missed one or two hidden talents. But this can be very harmful to your child’s identity as she may feel that she has to be the best at everything.
My biggest piece of advice is to start the socialisation at home. It will take effort sometimes but setting time aside to get involved in her life, to share fun activities and to teach her how to be part of a team can make the difference between a stereotypical only child and a well integrated and liked human being.