My husband and I are raising an only child. I’d like to believe she won’t always be an only child, but circumstances are leading me to believe she will.
Friends and family tell us we have it easy. “I remember when I only had one kid…I thought it was hard until I had more kids. Now I know what hard is!” But I would argue that raising an only child presents a unique challenge.
After all, I can’t defer my daughter to go play with her siblings. I have to constantly work to generate social interactions for her when school’s not in session. And have I mentioned I’ve spent the last five years making a voice for our dog so she’ll have someone to talk to besides me?
Some days either she or I feel the loneliness a little more deeply. But most days, we strike a pretty spectacular balance of social interaction, quality time together, and independent play. Here’s how we’re doing it.
Raising an Only Child Means Maximizing Social Interactions
Extend and visit your family.
While we don’t have loads of family living nearby, we do try to see our nearby family pretty regularly. Of course, my daughter’s favorite family visits are those where we see my niece and nephew, both her age. They run in the yard together while my sister-in-law and I chat over coffee.
Papa and Nana’s house also offers some social interaction and a change of scenery. While they don’t have a yard to run in, my daughter is happy enough to pack her own toys and art supplies for her visits there. She also enjoys “training” and walking their puppy and singing on their karaoke machine, both a refreshing change from home.
Recently, I was surprised by how much she even enjoyed visiting my aunt and uncle. With grown children and no toys to play with, I assumed my five-year-old would be bored. Instead, she plays with their dogs, explores and collects rocks from their backyard, and listens to family stories there.
Consider scheduling regular visits with all of your family. You’ll be providing your only child with some diverse social interaction, as well as a short break from the confines of your own home.
Connect with their friends, especially other only children.
We try to regularly invite my daughter’s friends to our home. It allows the kids time to play together, gives her friends’ parents a few hours break, and provides me a break from the pressures of entertaining her. This is especially helpful if/when your child is friends with another only child, who’s likely facing the same challenges.
Don’t feel comfortable dropping your child at someone else’s home? My daughter has several friends whose parents stay to visit while the kids play. While I’m still playing entertainer in a way, it’s a welcome change from entertaining a five-year-old.
Take advantage of technology.
FaceTime is a fantastic tool for increasing social interactions. My mom and stepdad FaceTime my daughter at least every weekend, usually more often. And she loves carrying my phone around to show them her latest drawings and skateboard tricks.
FaceTime requires very minimal effort and can help your only child connect more often with friends and family members. Bonus: It helps our daughter feel close to family members who live far away.
Raising an Only Child Means Scheduling and Spacing Out Regular Outings
Participate in regular activities.
I’m constantly keeping an eye out for family-friendly activities in our community. My daughter and I consistently attend things like story times, free movie days, festivals, and parades. There’s something about leaving their home and being around other people that does an only child’s heart well, even if they don’t know the other people personally.
And it usually results in new friendships! Even if I don’t exchange phone numbers and set up playdates with the other child’s mom (which I often do), my daughter knows who to expect at story time and looks forward to seeing them there.
Space your activities out.
Now here’s the trick…once you’ve found activities, be sure to space them out. If my daughter has both story time and swim lessons on Wednesday, it seems to accentuate the fact that she’s all alone on Thursday and Friday.
Instead, I try to space activities out…story time Monday, downtime Tuesday, swim lesson Wednesday, downtime Thursday, visit Papa Friday. Spacing out our activities and visits gives my daughter something to look forward to on the slower days at home.
Raising an Only Child Means Focusing on Quality Over Quantity
Set regular one-on-one times your child can count on.
Let’s face it, raising an only child means you are likely your child’s main source of entertainment. But the fact is that you also probably have a job and other responsibilities, and can’t spend every waking moment talking to and playing with your child. That’s why I suggest setting a regular time that your child can expect your full attention.
My daughter gets out of school at noon and I start work at 3:00 pm. So I tell her that from noon to 2:00 pm, she gets my full attention. Sometimes we spend our time together running errands or cooking lunch, sometimes watching a movie, but it’s time that she knows I’m actively participating in life with her.
Your time doesn’t have to be that long either. A friend of mine promises her son 15 minutes of her undivided attention every night before bed. When he moans during dinner cleanup that his mom isn’t paying attention, she reminds him that their special time together is coming soon, and allows him to choose exactly how they’ll spend that time.
The main point is to be consistent. Set aside a time that your child can count on every day and remind them that time is coming when they get more demanding.
Be more mindful.
And when you do spend that time with your child, be mindful and attentive. Put away your phone and other distractions, set aside your to-do list for a few moments, and just be with them.
I spent the first four years of my daughter’s life as a stay-at-home mom. And while I spent seemingly endless time with her, I found I wasn’t usually present in those moments, opting to multitask or scroll social media while she played beside me.
I paid her the same attention that I would my coworkers or friends. And we found thirty minutes of undivided attention filled our hearts just as much (maybe even more!) than eight hours of half-hearted listening.
Raising an Only Child Means Expanding Entertainment Options
Teach them to play independently.
It’s not healthy (for either of you) to serve as your child’s only source of entertainment. I would love to hang out all day with my daughter, but we have bills to pay, errands to run, and more. That’s why it’s important to teach your child the art of independent play.
This can be achieved by coaching your child through activities rather than doing it for/with them, encouraging open-ended activities, and regularly swapping out toys. For more ideas, be sure to check out How to Stop Entertaining Your Child | 13 Genius Tricks to Boost Independent Play.
(Need a little help encouraging and empowering them so that they’re more confident in their ability to play independently and do all. the. things? Then How to Build Confidence in Kids and 150+ Encouraging Words For Kids are calling your name!)
Consider a furry sibling.
True, pets aren’t for everyone. And pets are a sad substitute for a sibling if you choose to think of it that way.
But our dog provides hours upon hours of companionship to our daughter. He lays beside her while she watches movies, patiently wears costumes that complement her role playing, and never complains about the plastic food she serves him.
I gave him a voice years ago as a way for her to interact with him when she was small and now she gives him a voice and funny things to say. Together, we’ve created an entire personality and narrative for our dog that our whole family enjoys. It’s far from a sibling or human friend, but I would argue that our Jack Russell is as much a part of the family as any of us.
Raising an only child doesn’t have to feel lonely or suffocating. By taking measures to incorporate social interaction, quality time together, and independent play, your family will feel complete just as it is.
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