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Single child, multiple issues

A single child may have serious adjustment and sharing problems. Parents should temper the pampering with discipline26 Mar 2017 | 2:17 AM

A game of street cricket breaks out into a fight; something every kid in the game knew was bound to happen sooner or later for they were playing with Rahul. The kids refuse every time he wants to play with them.

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Aditi Garg

A game of street cricket breaks out into a fight; something every kid in the game knew was bound to happen sooner or later for they were playing with Rahul. The kids refuse every time he wants to play with them. They all know that whenever he is declared out, or don’t get to bowl, he is going to throw a tantrum, ending the game before anyone else has had a chance to play. But because his mother usually intervenes or requests them to let him play  with promises of him behaving himself, they relent. Without much success though. 

His mother, Shalu Gupta (name changed), based in Ludhiana, sighs, "I am at a loss as to how to deal with this kind of behaviour. He is our only child who is pampered by not just me and my husband but also his grandparents. We live in a joint family, every time I want to tell him that the world doesn't revolve around him and he needs to learn to adjust, the family elders tell me not to be harsh on him. It is a tough situation where I know that the only way I can prepare him for future challenges in life is by balancing the affection with discipline."

Attention and appreciation

Single children tend to get not just more attention but also unbridled appreciation from their family. Being in that ensconced environment during the formative years ensures that they are not used to the fact that someone else could be better than them or gets more attention than them. When they go out in the world and face such situations later in life, they are clueless on how to deal with them. Parents, who complement their affection with responsibility and discipline, have raised single kids who are better adjusted. While the parents and grandparents continue indulging the kids as long as they can, the moment these children go out in the real world, they expect the same from others who obviously don't share the ‘parental' view about them. This creates a problem where these kids don't know how to work their way to achieve desired results and at times find themselves not being held in high esteem that they are used to by those around them. In families where both parents are working, the situation is worse as the kids oscillates between too much attention and no attention. 

Dr Sucheta Singh, Research Faculty at Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusion Policy, Panjab University (PU), Chandigarh, is a parent to a single child. She says, “Single children do live in their own world but then every child is different and it depends a lot on the parents as to how they bring her/him up. I have a 15-year-old boy who is pampered but we also try to balance it by inculcating discipline in every aspect of his life. The emotional quotient of single kids is very high and they may seem to find it difficult to adjust, but with right guidance they can settle just as wonderfully as children with siblings."

Limited interaction with kids

Due to their natural circumstances, single kids have restricted interaction with other children, even though they may be surrounded by doting adults. At times, the lack of stimulation (which other children can provide best) can lead to a delay in developmental milestones. This lack of interaction, if it is not made up for by encouraging contact with other kids outside home, can prove to be detrimental in future social interactions. Having cousins in a joint family or ample playmates can offset the effect. Preetika Bhasin, a student at PU, who grew up around cousins in a joint family, says, "When I was a kid, I used to crave for a sibling because all my friends had brothers and sisters. But having my cousins around, I gradually grew out of it and don't feel that gap any more."

Dr Preeti Arun, Psychiatrist and Professor at Department of Psychiatry, GMCH, Chandigarh, feels that though single children may face adjustment problems like not being open to other people's perspectives and not like sharing their space or things for they are used to being the only ones and getting the best always; but by having other kids around at places like extracurricular activity centres and hobby classes, the effects can be negated."

Turning difficulty into strength

Anusha Manjani, a Psychotherapist at Aasaan Health Solutions, Mumbai, offers a few tips to parents of single children, "The attention that is showered on a single child can as easily turn them into dependent adults as into independent ones."

  • Guide them towards more opportunities and choices.
  • Resist the temptation to fight their battles or make choices for them.
  • With all financial and emotional resources directed towards them, it is easy to spoil them. To maintain a balance, it is a must to assign them chores and duties around the house. 
  • Provide them with more opportunities for interacting with other kids.
  • Be a role model and show responsible behaviour as they will behave the way you do. This holds true for kids with siblings as well.
  • Develop the sharing instinct by encouraging them to share and take turns at games and other activities with you and other  family members.
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