Special approach aids only child
Last week I talked about changing family patterns. As a matter of choice, there are more families with a single child.
A reason for this may be the huge costs of raising a child, providing the necessary food, clothing, shelter and education.
Also, many adults are delaying marriage until their 30s or even 40s. In many of these cases the biological clock will preclude the possibility of having several children.
Many parents have asked me about ways they can help their only child have a happy, psychologically well-balanced existence. Following are some ground rules that may help.
• Parents of an only child should be careful not to become too overprotective and smother him. Otherwise, parents risk creating insecurity and uncertainty in the child by not letting him explore the world around him and thereby learn independence and self-directedness. Parents need to remember we all learn by making some mistakes.
Sometimes parents of an only child become so engrossed in the child’s life that they build up resentments within him that remain throughout his life. The only child can in fact become overly dependent and unable to make decisions.
Should parents decide early that this is not going to happen to the child, then a large measure of control can be brought over this unneeded posture toward him and a balance can be obtained.
• Parents of an only child sometimes place all their hopes, dreams and aspirations on the one child. As one parent put it, “We put all our eggs in one basket.”
Parents of several children may have one good athlete, one good student, one child with a good sense of humor. But the parent of the only child may expect him to be the best in everything and demand too much. Parents must be careful about unrealistic and unreasonable expectations or the pressure can be stressful and psychologically harmful.
Consider the parents who placed this pressure on their firstborn but let up when the second child arrived, then note the difference between the personalities of the two children. Without any additional offspring, some parents simply lock in with the extremely high expectations on the only child and never let up.
There are some real pluses, however, for the only child. Only children frequently are high achievers and very successful people in adult life because of high expectations and additional attention and positive experiences with their parents.
• Some parents who would have liked more children but had only one for whatever reason develop a neurotic and unhealthy attitude that can negatively affect the child.
They may frequently lament how they wish they had a larger family. This may give the child the message that his parents are unhappy with him, bringing on insecurity and negative feelings.
In these cases, adoption may be considered, but only if the parents feel an acceptance and love for a child that is not their biological offspring.
• Being an only child can be a rewarding and healthy experience, as has been attested to by many successful adults. Each child should be considered on the basis of an individual in need of love, attention and guidance.
Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D. Copyright 1987