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Me and My Shadow (Parenting Your Only-Child)

Parenting an only child comes with its own set of unique challenges and rewards and can sometimes be a daunting experience - often on the same day. While you will probably be asked "When are you going to give ________ a baby brother or sister?" until they're ready to graduate college, or be told, "Boy are you lucky you only have ONE child to deal with!" until you're almost ready to have another baby just to make it stop - two things are very true - parenting an only child is definitely a life experience and only-child myths are just that - myths!

Since parents of only children often have no one to compare their child to, they often find themselves wondering if they're doing "it" right, if the child is developing/growing in a normal/healthy manner and/or if he/she is well adjusted. As the wearer of many hats in the only-child home, here are some tips to help make life a little easier and more enjoyable for everyone.

Six Tips to Help Parent Your One and Only Child:

  1. Make Friends

    Making friends is an important aspect to the only child family. Not only is it important for the child, it is critical for the parent as well. It allows the child to learn how to interact with other children, both older and younger, learn to share, solve grievances, practice manners and be independent of mom and dad. Adult friendships provide parents with the opportunity to compare notes. Parents can discuss milestones, behaviors, and temperaments, as well as observe how their only child interacts with others. Besides, adult conversation is a wonderful way to recharge the parenting battery.

  2. Make Rules

    Every household needs rules, even the only child household. Let your only child know the acceptable parameters for your household, keeping in mind that he or she will have to interact with others outside of the home, so things like sharing, boundaries and patience is important. Don't be afraid to correct a behavior, explain a more appropriate behavior, or redirect behavior depending on the age of the child. Also chores or simply helping mom or dad around the house with daily tasks should be encouraged.

  3. Establish Routines and Structure

    It's so easy for a household to become completely child-focused, especially when there is one child under the roof. Their toys, their needs, their schedule just seems to take over, but structure and schedule can help minimize this syndrome. Establishing play areas/times, daily routines, meal times, nap times, and bed time, etc. will make life easier for everyone involved. Both parent and child will know what needs to be accomplished within a specific time frame, and in reality structure will create more time for spontaneity and flexibility down the road.

  4. Teach Responsibility and Accountability

    As the parent of your only child, you are your child's first playmate. How lucky! You get to lay the foundation for good sportsmanship, patience, sharing, taking turns, and learning how to interact with others. As your child will not have to worry about you throwing temper tantrums, snatching toys, forgetting manners, etc. he/she is lucky.

  5. Be a Good Role Model

    Like every parent, you are your child's first teacher and he/she will take their clues from you for acceptable behavior. Demonstrating the lessons you'd like him/her to learn is often the best way to get the point across. While every child is self-centered, (just try to tell a four year old he/she can't do what they really want to do) the only-child just needs to experience situations where he/she sees mom and dad interact with others too. Did you remember your manners or did you cut in line? Did you talk in a respectful tone or were you using your outdoor voice inside? These are all cues that only-children can learn from you through observation.

  6. Take Care of Yourself and Your Other Relationships

    The tough one - take time for yourself, make time for others, and help only-children learn that they are an important member of the family, but not the MOST important member of the family. If they learn this at home, they are more likely to remember it outside of the home. It's important for mom and dad to make time for each other without the child, make time for relationships with friends and family members and most importantly have time to recharge. Taking the time to nurture your relationships will help your only-child be more independent when you are not around and mindful of the needs of others.

Written by StorkNet Staff Writer Kim Green-Spangler

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