By Beth Pinyerd

I was raised in a family of siblings (two brothers), but as a mom, I raised an only child. I’m so grateful for both family situations, but as a teacher and parent, there are differences that I need to take into account when teaching and relating to children as well as a parent raising children.
I have pondered and reflected on both family situations that I have actually experienced and I would like to share a few general tips that I hope will benefit the readers. Our best teacher is to share, glean and learn from others who have parented only children as well as children with siblings.
Tips for parenting an only child:
1) Connecting with other children. This can be difficult in our busy world of jobs and activities, but parents of only children can be creative in connecting their only children with other children.
As a mom and teacher, I fell into the neatest situation in helping other moms with their children and my own. As a teacher, I would take three to four children home with my son and me after school till their moms got off from work. We would have a snack, play, then do homework together. This provided friends for my son in a home setting. Social skills such as appropriate interaction with others, sharing with friends and listening to others’ thoughts, ideas and opinions benefit an only child so much!
2) Another blessing that came our way with an only child was a close friend of our son’s had the same birthday. Each year, we came together as families to plan their birthdays together. The boys shared their ideas and theme wishes according to a budget. Over-giving to one child was kept in check. Other families appreciated just having to be able to go to one birthday party on the same day instead of two.
3) Play dates at the park and other places with other families and children is good for an only child to learn to make friends with other children. The Lee County community is child/family friendly in offering opportunities and activities for only-children in a family to meet others.
4) As a parent, you have to consciously set aside time to play with your only child. My husband would do brotherly roughhousing with our son by playing “Boom.” They rolled on the floor in the evenings tickling each other, wrestling and laughing. As parents, we have to model and set an example of playing games. Model sharing, listening, compromising and understanding each other are good social skills for your only child to learn and apply in getting along with other children.
5) With an only child, a parent wants to guide them to be independent and not too dependent on their mother and father to do everything for them. To accomplish this, assign specific chores for them to do.
6) As parents of an only child, our focus is on this one child. We have to remind ourselves as parents not to control every thought and action of an only child, but give them freedom to express themselves as a unique individual.
A Child’s Place with Siblings:
One thing I vividly remember back in the 1960s is being raised in a home with two brothers. We were different, but we had a close bond. When we were elementary and adolescent age, we three may have disagreed and argued all day long over what games we would play, television shows we watched, grabbing our favorite piece of chicken at the dinner table, who got to sit in the front seat of the car, etc. But at night, as we were all going to bed in our own rooms we were like the Walton family shouting “good night” and “I love you” to each other. This was a nightly ritual and a warm memory of a loving siblinghood.
In parenting siblings of different ages, choosing activities that siblings all enjoy promotes unity. Siblings choose a movie they enjoy, a favorite board game, cooking their favorite foods together, etc. are a few examples of shared activities. Playing outside together, safely roughhousing to work off energy, doing fun family projects and hobbies are ways to promote family bonding. As parents, oversee safety of their play, but try to be an observer of siblings bonding together.
Siblings need to feel unity with each other. As parents, guide them to encourage and nurture each other. We see this with older siblings taking care of younger siblings in helping them learn new skills. Don’t let siblings side against each other. This can cause such unnecessary stress in a family. Guide children to immediately talk out the problems they have with each other. Have them listen to each other and work out the conflict. Practice POP – Positive, Optimistic, Peacemaker in building up the family team spirit!
Each child is a gift from God, whether born in an only-child family or a family with multiple siblings. All types of families will have their good and not-so-good days, but the main thing to remember is that relationships are the main thing to put to heart and cherish for life. I hope this article has been a light and helpful source for you.