Alison Curtis: Ensuring three is the magic number for 'solo' children

My daughter, a solo child, has been finding it difficult, in recent weeks, without her pals. I had to stop and really pay attention to what she needed
Alison Curtis: Ensuring three is the magic number for 'solo' children

Alison Curtis: Over the past few weeks in lockdown, three has been proving a tricky number, rather than a magic one. Picture: Marc O'Sullivan

My daughter Joan, who is nine, is a solo kid, as I like to call her, instead of an only/lonely child. This is something I have had a complicated relationship with over the years.

In the beginning, there was overwhelming guilt that I couldn’t face another pregnancy after surviving pre-eclampsia, abruption, and emergent caesarian section. Then, when she was about four, that guilt started to fade a bit but was replaced by an acute awareness that I must help her try and develop skills that other children learn from having siblings.

As she got older, the questions about getting a brother or sister stopped and gradually was replaced by this pride in our — as she calls it — triangle family. I have always built up this idea that the three of us are a team. That we should want to best for each other, we should help one another, and, most of all, we love each other more than anything.

But over the past few weeks in lockdown, three has been proving a tricky number, rather than a magic one. As with all children getting out of routine, missing pals and generally being bored at times across the day has resulted in some draining behaviour from Joan.

She is needing our attention every minute of the day and I feel she is losing her ability to work independently a bit. My husband and I are continually interrupted whenever we are speaking to each other and unfortunately we are getting frustrated.

The result of the three of us being together all of the time is we are reprimanding her more than usual and, in her mind, she feels ganged up on; it seems like two against one.

We were on a walk the other night and it just broke down. At every turn she wanted to go another way from us, she complained of being tired, and again constantly interrupted whoever was talking.

My husband and I lost our patience but it was also a moment when I realised that, to solve this, I had to really put myself in her shoes and see the situation from her point of view.

She is bored, she is missing her pals, and missing school. She has the same amount of energy each day that she would have had going to school, swimming, piano, basketball, and all the extras we had lined up each week pre-Covid.
The stimulus of being around kids her own age is gone and our energy to talk about LOLs or play Among Us can’t match this.

In short, her constant talking or interrupting and need for attention is a result of her feeling not heard.

So at that moment I stopped Joan and asked her to explain clearly, in her own words, what was making her unhappy these days. What she told me was exactly what I thought but it was the first time in a few weeks that I really stopped, listened, and created space for some sort of a solution — created that space for her to know she had been heard.

We carried on walking and I explained that it is most definitely not a case of Daddy and me against her and that we are still very much a team. I apologised for getting angry too quickly. But I had to also reenforce her role on the team which was to be independent at times across the day when other things, like work, need to get done.

Together we came up with a bit of a plan that so far seems to have worked. She gets to pick two things across the day that we all do as a family. Things seem smoother and calmer as a result. We have cooked and baked lots more. I also think it is good for my husband and me to play. To break from worrying about the news, break from our phones, and to just get into the mindset of a nine-year-old, even for a few moments each day. After all, when it works, three really is magic!

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