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The assumption seems to be that an only child and their parents have a harder time being quarantined for long distances than children with siblings. The reality is that Covid-19 has created a new family landscape for all families. The challenges are not the same, but they are there.
Because of consensus thinking, parents can feel guilty and think that their child would be happier if a sibling was in the house. Maybe yes, maybe no.
If you are the parent of an only child, enjoy the fact that you are not resolving disputes, alleviating escalating tension, or overseeing requests for individual and undivided parental attention. When children are bored, no matter how many children play games, parents are encouraged to fill in the gaps. I hear complaints from children with and without siblings: peers cannot visit, school is closed, no extracurricular activities. They tell me that they have nothing to do.
Only children have spent more time alone, and many can make quite good use of the extra time social distancing has created. Sibling status has little to do with a child’s ability to support themselves. With or without a sibling, a child may need to orchestrate their time. Another could be independent, enjoy himself, and be perfectly satisfied if left to his own devices.
Fill in the gaps
Parents of just children often feel that they need to be the ones filling their child’s time to avoid making their child feel lonely or bored. On their own and without constant parenting influence, only children can make good use of the extra time they have. If you are concerned that your child may be bored or lonely without a sibling to act as a playmate, consider the significant and useful benefit of spending time alone.
It encourages creativity and, most importantly, encourages a child’s independence and ability to support themselves – both helpful as a child gets older. In her book Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unleash Your Most Productive and Creative Self, Manuoush Zomorodi explains, “Boredom leads to a close cousin wandering around the mind … Letting the mind wander is the key to creativity and Productivity. ”
Connect, connect, connect
Be liberal with online connections. If your only child is complaining, acknowledge their boredom, be empathetic so they know you are hearing them, and remember that the internet is a blessing to most children and especially helpful to only children while the social isolation persists. Parents who have set a limit on how many friends can be contacted online may want to schedule longer online time to keep in touch with their peers.
A study of young children and their online screen time, led by Douglas Downey, professor of sociology at Ohio State University, reports little or no impact on children’s social skills. The researchers examined more than 30,000 kindergartens through 5th grade based on evaluations from teachers and parents and found, “In virtually every comparison we made, social skills either stayed the same or actually increased modestly.”
The interactive possibilities are endless and your child is likely familiar with them. For example there is Game Pigeon – an iPad or iPhone app with 20 different multiplayer games, from checkers and chess to basketball, darts and mini golf.
Text-writing kids do what they always do – connect online and through various apps and on their phones. If you’ve ever watched kids on their phones while sitting side by side in the same room, you’ve probably noticed that they only interact when they are typing text. All of these connections fill the time, cultivate friendships with their peers, and help keep your child occupied and not focus on the coronavirus fears and worries that are inevitable on the news.
Loosen your watchful eye
In some ways, the only child is used to having their attention focused on them, and that factor alone can make it easier to live with longer around the clock. However, if your only child didn’t like being the center of attention before social distancing, they will likely like it less now.
Many parents of only children admit doing too much of what an only child could and should do. Social distancing is an opportunity to withdraw and give your only child more responsibility. Hire an older man to do the laundry only, or make dinner a certain number of days of the week, or vacuum. You will be surprised how quickly a child, even when complaining, feels good about contributing to the family. Turning it on is a reminder that your child is part of a family and doesn’t always need to be the center of attention.
Expand your only child’s world
If you don’t have a child or toddler, your child will remember that they sought refuge there. Foster empathy and strengthen connections with family and close friends. Practice video chatting or FaceTime calling with your child’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. This will help remind the only child of their broader support network and bring them closer to family members who are beyond you.
Help in ways that involve your child. Shop for older neighbors and let your child come along if you leave the groceries on their doors. Discuss where donations are needed and donate when you can. Just ask them to call their grandparents or someone in the family who may have problems every few days to see how they are doing. Think of caring gestures that will last long after the pandemic.
Build on your close bond
Studies from 1978 and more recent studies show that only children are closer to their parents than children with siblings. Use social distancing to build on that bond: expand your child’s memory bank by starting a new tradition regarding something your family hasn’t done before – learn chess, bridge, backgammon, or another To play a game that neither parent nor child have ever played. Try making different types of bread or starting a new exercise program that you can all do.
Because of the close bond between parents and children, many only children are attentive and sensitive to their parents’ feelings and attitudes. Unless you have siblings to distract or dispel parenting worries, you should take care to keep your stress and anxiety in check to avoid your only child picking them up and carrying burdens that do not match their age are compatible.
Copyright @ 2020 by Susan Newman
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