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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Do single-child parents have a bigger problem?

Sanjeevani's daughter was not giving a 'chocolate' to me, despite being told numerous times. When i told Sanjeevani that it is OK, Sanjeevani got even more irritated. She said ' Now a days, Vidya is becoming more and more selfish. She does not share anything with anyone". I replied that it is normal for a child of four. She retorted, " But shouldn't she learn to share?'. I kept quiet. She continued " And she is not going to have any sibling. So I have to teach her. I have no choice"

With more and more parents preferring to have just one child, you will find many more parents like Sanjeevani. The negative stereotypes of single-child — lonely, selfish, bossy, spoiled, socially maladjusted—prevalent in the society make parents think their child will be at a disadvantage when compared to those who grow up with siblings. The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide by Susan Newman has compiled a good amount of statistics to debug this myth. 

Here are some significant statements from her research that will rest your doubts:

1. More and more families are going for single-child families. In US, the figure is about 25%. In urban india, this figure would perhaps be same.

2. Mothers of single child are happier, although it has no difference on the father's contentment. It is my guess that this is true when today's mothers learn to adopt more 'adult-centric' life than their mothers. 

3.  Negative stereotypes - bossy, selfish, spoiled child - are not true. 

4. Siblings are not essential for normal development of child.

The last point requires some elaboration, because today's children face real handicaps in developing relationship skill, the skill which enables us to relate with other people and collaborate with them. Other bigger handicaps - like absence of elders in the family, living more in front of TV instead of playground, transactional nature of urban societies, ability to have virtual friends than real physical friends due to internet - are more powerful contributors to the lack of skill in relating with people. In other words, the effect is less due to lack of sibling, and perhaps due to other contributory factors.

If parents do the following, their single children get the necessary help in their development

1. Teach them empathy and sympathy for others so that they learn other perspectives: Being an only child sometimes does not give them the opportunity to have to deal with multiple points of view like other children with siblings. Utilise these tips that we discussed in the earlier blog.

2. Teach them to manage interpersonal issues by keeping aloof: If you as a parent intercede too much and try to overly involve yourself in friendship issues of your child, your child will never learn how to solve them on their own. Instead of solving their issues, ask them questions " What do you think is a good way to solve this issue?” or “ Is there something you may have contributed to this situation that caused this? (kids try to make themselves sound innocent yet there are always two sides to everything!)”. In some issues like bullying or hitting each other beyond normal, your  more than normal involvement may be required. 

3. Be aware of active and reactive covariance while relating with child:  Parents of single children often 'tend' to put all their expectations, directly or indirectly, on the shoulders of their only child. If you push your child too 'hard' ( parents do it very subtly and indirectly), she will sense your 'pressure', and become too cautious and defensive under the pressure of your expectations. 

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