Families and friends, to say nothing of strangers, may not even wait until your first child’s birth before asking the question, “so when are you having a brother or sister for your little one“? It can reach a feverish pitch of pestering if parents haven’t produced a sibling before their child’s second birthday, with perfect strangers offering advice about how horrible it is for a child to grow up as an ‘only child.’
These ‘well-meaning’ words are a problem for so many reasons, perhaps parents are struggling to conceive? Maybe a second pregnancy has been lost and parents are still dealing with this grief? It’s possible that the intensity of Attachment Parenting has encouraged a couple to wait in their decision to have a second child? Or, shock! horror! disbelief! A family might decide to have but one child.
No matter what your reasons, don’t feel that your family size isn’t able to offer your child the connections noted in sibling relationships. Too often families feel that they are denying their only-child some otherwise unattainable relationship with an imagined brother or sister. People worry that in not having a brother or sister, their child will be unable to practice social behaviours of sharing, empathy and problem solving. Not true! If your family is a one-child family, there are many ways to help your singleton develop these sibling-like relationships.
Connect with cousins: Many families have blood relationships that can be deepened and developed into life-long bonds. Cousins are great playmates and offer the comfort of being a part of your family. Make a commitment to have a ‘cousin sleepover’ with your child’s favourite cousin once or twice a month.
Big Brother/Big Sister Associations: These organizations give older children a chance to develop a relationship with someone of the same gender who has the potential of becoming a mentor and lasting friend. For younger children, Scouts and Guides, which exist internationally, are also excellent ways to find and build relationships with mentors within a more organized structure.
Playdates: A well-developed friendship can be as sustaining and rich as any sibling bond. Help your children develop gentle social skills that will give them the tools to make life-long friends. Be that family who hosts playdates or back garden parties. Invite your own friends around often and model the importance of friendship.
Talk about it: Most singleton children will be surrounded by children who have siblings. From an early age discuss this difference and, if appropriate, be honest about the reason why. Help them understand and appreciate this difference.
Role Play: It is likely that at some point most children will express a desire to have a brother or sister. Use dolls, pictures, or yourself to act out what your child’s needs might be around the desire to have a sibling.
Family-size is a sensitive and private topic that seems to invite commentary and criticism from the outside world. There are countless online resources for families with singletons that exist to support these families who are looking for connections and community. There are also numerous books that can further develop the above ideas of supporting singleton children (and their families) in a non-singleton world.