To: parents of only children,
Only children get used to being on their own. In fact, there tends to be a stereotype of only children being introverted, entitled weirdos who don’t know how to interact with others. Growing up without siblings has spoiled them and stunted their social growth, so the story goes.
Every stereotype has some truth to it. However me and many other only children I know are still social and (almost) normal people. How?
Well, it takes a more concerted effort. But by giving your child opportunities to be more extroverted, they can be just as socialized as children with siblings. Here are a few ideas for making that happen.
Be hospitable to other parents and their children (especially those with siblings). Parents with more than one child have a lot of obligations. Sometimes three children need to be in three different places at once. If you offer to reduce another parent’s burden by taking a child off their hands for a few hours, you have a great social opportunity for your son or daughter.
My parents did this all the time. Many of my best friends had two or three siblings. By simply being open and welcoming, lots of other parents were eager to get free babysitting while my mom got me some new friends.
Get that kid involved. I was a very active child. I played most team sports, stayed after school for academic clubs, and trained in karate for years.
The great thing about all these activities was not only did they keep me busy, they kept me social. Take karate, for example.
Not only did I have dozens of kids my age to train with, as I earned higher ranks in my dojo, I was expected to teach others. This isn’t exactly the same as the responsibility and communication that older siblings have to learn, but it’s close.
Fold up the kid’s table. Sometimes, only children are accused of being creepily adult-like. While it’s important to socialize with kids their own age, there are a lot of social benefits to interacting with adults too.
I’m not just an only child in my immediate family; I was often one of the only kids at extended family occasions. As a result, I sat with adults, eating adult food, listening to adult conversations. Though this was sometimes intimidating and alienating, it was a great learning experience.
When I went to school and got older, I was more comfortable speaking with adults. I hadn’t been sheltered from “real” social interaction. So, I grew up to be candid with adults, yet respectful at the same time. I think there are many ways to instill this in your children, but treating your only child as an autonomous little person is a great place to start.
The stereotypes aren’t true. At least most of the time. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an active effort to make your only child more social. It could be a great opportunity!