Is an only child a lonely child?

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"If you are the parent of an only child and are considering keeping him or her as your one and only, how do you ensure that your child doesn’t grow up lonely, and learns some of the life lessons that a child with siblings might?" Read this article to find out...

Growing up as an only child, a question I often got asked was “Are you lonely? Don’t you wish you had brothers and sisters?” As an adult, I still sometimes get asked the same question.

My answer to this question was and still is a big, fat “no”.

I honestly didn’t miss having siblings because I grew up with heaps of friends, cousins, pets and books. This combination replaced brothers and sisters and in my opinion, were probably even better than siblings!

Why? Because I could play with my friends all day and still have ‘alone time’ in the evenings. I could visit my cousins whenever I wanted to – they were like siblings but without a lot of the squabbling and fighting.

My dogs were my constant companions and if and when I ever felt lonely, they were just a whistle away, with their warm comforting fur and smiley eyes. They also taught me valuable life lessons such as compassion, friendship and loyalty.

And of course, my books. They took me on magical, journeys where their colourful characters became my best friends, and I could let my imagination run riot in their pages.

is an only child lonely

While I wasn’t lonely as a child, I see and appreciate the companionship and lessons a sibling can provide, in the relationship my own children have.

I was not lonely growing up, but perhaps this was due to the environment my parents provided me with, that ensured I was not lonely.

And I’m pretty sure I am not selfish or anti-social (at least my friends tell me so!), as many imagine only children to be. I credit this to the fact that I had plenty of peer-socialisation when I was growing up, as well as to the upbringing my parents gave me.

But I also have friends who were only children and tell me that they were lonely growing up.

If you are the parent of an only child and are considering keeping him or her as your one and only, how do you ensure that your child doesn’t grow up lonely, and learns some of the life lessons that a child with siblings might?

Here are some tips based on my own experience that may help you.

is an only child lonely

Give your only child plenty of ‘adopted’ siblings via playdates and interaction with friends and cousins

Provide plenty of chances for peer interaction

Since only children spend a lot of time with you – their parents yes, but also adults – you don’t want them to grow up having difficulty relating to their peers. So give them plenty of opportunities to mingle and make friends with kids their own age, through playdates and classes.

If you have family living close to you, encourage your child to hang out with his cousins as this can provide some of the benefits that sibling socialisation can.

Don’t be overprotective

Sure, he’s your one and only baby. But if you hover over him when he starts to walk and don’t let him fall, he won’t learn how to pick himself up. If he gets into a fight with his friend and you ‘rescue’ him, he’s not going to learn how to fight his own battles.

If you interfere too much, your child may not learn how to navigate the world as he grows older. So do step back when it’s appropriate, and let your child figure out the solution to his problem on his own.

Don’t forget to talk to your friends who have multiple kids about what their own boundaries are when it comes to intervening in their kids’ affairs. This will help you strike a good balance between protecting your child, and over-protecting him.

is an only child lonely

A pet can provide much needed companionship for your only child. But only get a pet if your family is ready to take on the responsibilities that come with it.

Get a pet

A pet can teach a child many valuable life lessons, such as being responsible, kind and loyal.

In the case of your only child, a pet can also provide companionship. However, do be aware about responsible pet ownership and only get one if your family is ready for it, and can commit to the time and effort it takes to raise a pet.

Have reasonable expectations from your child

Just because your one and only child is also your one and only chance of proving how good you are as a parent, this doesn’t mean that you have to set unreasonable and unrealistic expectations for him.

It’s best for your child that you keep your own dreams and hopes for him in line with his own ambitions and natural abilities, while reassuring him he doesn’t have to be the best at everything.

So if your child loves music, focus on his love of songs and rhythm, rather than pushing him to become the next Mozart.

Let your child make decisions

All too often parents of only children jump in to make decisions for their child. But by doing this, your child may come to depend on your input before making a move – even when they are older and capable of independent thinking.

You can start helping your child be an independent thinker (and do-er) right from when he is a toddler.

For example, at bedtime, ask your little one to choose which story he wants you to read to him, rather than picking one yourself. You could also provide a couple of options for mealtime, asking him to pick the meal he would like to eat.

By giving your little one simple choices like this, you’re doing a great job at setting the stage for nurturing future decision-making skills – a quality we know will serve a person well in his adult years.

In the end, what matters is the example you set for your children, the environment they grow up in and the values you and other caregivers instill in them.

A combination of these factors in a child’s life is bound to result in him growing up as a well-rounded adult – regardless of whether he is an only child or has many siblings.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do share them with us in a comment below. 

Parenting Raising an Only Child