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Does your only child struggle with sharing?

Socialization opportunities to teach kids life lessons

only children, socialization, sharing

For the first eight years of her life, my daughter Saige was an only child. This was not planned; a struggle with secondary infertility extended my original desire of a three-year age gap between children to a gap of eight years. For me, growing up with a younger sibling had, I felt, taught me many important socio-emotional life lessons that I likely would not have learned otherwise. For a while, as the parent of not just an only child but an only grandchild (on both sides), I had some pretty hefty concerns regarding Saige growing up without the benefits I believed having a sibling would give her.

My husband Mike, an only child himself, didn't share my concerns regarding Saige's sibling-free status as a possible developmental
handicap. Instead, he would remind me that he "turned out ok, and so did my only-child mother. Right?"

I must admit, Mike's response allayed some of my fears regarding Saige, especially given that in the case of my husband, his mother, and myself, the most socially inept of the group would probably be me, the one with the sibling!

Nurture your child’s socio-emotional development
Most parents believe that a child's socio-emotional development is influenced by both nature and nurture-type factors. This explains why typically, modern parents of only children place importance on seeking out opportunities for their child to learn behaviors such as sharing, compromise and how to appropriately interact with their peers. By actively socializing their children, parents of "onlies" can help satisfy the nurture half of their child's socio-emotional development.

My mother-in-law Barbara Valentino of Newburgh was quite ahead of her time when it came to ensuring that her son had adequate socialization opportunities as a child. "I sent him to a sitter who had five other children, nursery school early, and a magnet school so that he would meet and interact with children of different backgrounds," Valentino explains. "Mike's father and I always stressed courtesy, consideration of others, and sharing throughout Mike's childhood. He participated in ski club and frequently spent time with his cousins." Barbara made it a point to give her son a variety of experiences as a child, and by taking part in activities such as cycling competitions and karate, he learned how to lose and win
graciously as well.

School teaches more than reading, writing and arithmetic
Unlike children with siblings, appropriate ways to interact with peers are not as easily teachable in one-child homes, says Milena McNally of Beacon. "I think that we try to reinforce sharing behavior and good interpersonal skills like empathy with our son at home," explains McNally. "Ultimately, being with other kids and having to sort these things out with peers is key." McNally's son is currently enrolled in a Montessori program, as the Montessori philosophy dictates child immersion in an environment with peers where the importance of learning to respect others and take turns is stressed throughout each and every school day.

Finding a preschool program that teaches and encourages sharing as part of its overall curriculum, can be quite beneficial for only children. Hannah Black of Hyde Park found such a program for her daughter at Dutchess Community College (DCC). "The toddler and preschool program at DCC teaches students that sharing is not just giving up something that the child is playing with," explains Black, "but also the importance of empowering youngsters to identify their feelings and communicate them through meaningful conversation and discussion." Outside of school, Black makes sure to reinforce any sharing behavior she observes by verbally praising her daughter. "It's important that sharing isn't forced," asserts Black.

Finding socialization outside of school
Outside of school, other ways to encourage social skill-building
experiences for only children include playdates and extra-curricular interest- based sports and classes. Jessica Carola of Fishkill employs all three. "When she was young, my daughter was involved in Mommy and Me music classes, swimming, dance, and gymnastics," says Carola. "We also had playdates with friends and family." These days, Carola states, "At age 8, my daughter takes karate and still has playdates all the time." Opportunities for only children to socialize should not end with the preschool years. Offer socialization experiences to older only children to expose them to a variety of peer groups while also combating loneliness and isolating feelings that older children may have.

Libraries are a great place for only children. Many public libraries in the region offer story hours during the week. There are also great clubs for teens with different interests.

Parks and playgrounds are full of kids, especially in the warmer months. Whenever my youngest goes to the park she ends up making a new friend!

Summer camp gives only children the daily peer socialization they are used to receiving at school, but with curricula tailored to their own interests.

Jill Valentino is a wife, mom of two, elementary educator, and lifelong resident of the Hudson Valley. In the wee hours of the evening she moonlights as an essayist, wannabe novelist and classic rock mommy review blogger. To read more, visit her website at DoublesMom77.com.