Lone child not always lonely

Building blocks:  It's important to organise lots of opportunities for child to mix with others his age

Children need to learn from early stage about role of sharing, says Helen O’Callaghan

AN only child is not necessarily a lonely child, says Aine Costello, project worker in family support with Barnardos.

“Some children, depending on temperament, may be very comfortable in their own space,” she says. Parents of only children worry that other parents will perceive their child as ‘spoilt’ and may “over-compensate to the point of being harsh” to the child.

Only children may lack ability to see other children’s points of view, and lack an awareness of how their behaviour impacts other children. “Because they’re used to lots of attention, they may appear bossy and — in social situations where they have to share attention — try to control things to get attention.”

Costello says create situations so the child can see the impact of their behaviour — whether negative or positive — on other people. A parent can model appropriate behaviour by creating opportunities for sharing, whether the family’s having a snack or playing a game.

“Focus on taking turns and letting other people go ahead. Praise and encourage sharing. Use language like, ‘I’m really happy you shared your crisps with me’ or ‘I’m sad you didn’t share the TV remote with me’.”

Barnardos’ Friendship Programme features a ‘decision wheel’ to encourage fairness. When two children can’t decide who goes first in a game, the wheel can stop at ‘let another person go first’ or on ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’.

“Kids who find it difficult to share discover it’s easier to do it on the decision wheel,” says Costello. A home version might involve flipping a coin to decide who picks the bedtime book or the TV programme. The aim is to phase out the ‘decision wheel’ and to encourage fair negotiation.

Encouraging only children to get involved in team activities is a good idea, too. Think scouts, girl guides, Irish dancing, sports clubs.

Only children can be at several advantages — relationship with Mum and Dad can be particularly close and, because they get more parental attention, they may have greater self-confidence than kids with siblings. But beware of loading too many expectations on them.


- Create opportunities for turn-taking and sharing so child learns how to resolve conflict and to compromise.

- Find opportunities for child to be with other children so they learn how to make and keep friends.

- Give praise whenever they share with or help somebody else.

- Remember an only child is not necessarily a lonely child.


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