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Two recent demographic changes have increased the number of only children. Women are postponing childbirth until there is only enough time on their biological clock to have one child and many couples are deciding one child is enough for them. The statistics are startling as in 2004 17.4% of women age 40 to 44 had only one child while in 1976 9.6% of women in that age group had only one child.
I am often asked if I have any special advice for raising only children.
Every older child is an only child once and manages to survive both the state of being the only one and, when the sibling comes along, the horrors of being displaced!
Seriously, there is no evidence that only children are handicapped by their lack of siblings. Studies have actually shown greater self-esteem and self-reliance in only children. Only children have a slight edge over children with siblings in vocabulary and math readiness. There is no higher incidence of divorce or depression in onlys and men raised as only children report themselves as happy adults.
Only children are often more comfortable with adults than are children with siblings. However parents of only children know they should provided opportunities for their child to interact with other children. There are many such opportunities in the community ranging from exercise classed to story hours at the library to play groups arranged by parents themselves.
There is some evidence that mothers of only children may have a problem. Strange as this sounds they may get too attached to and involved with the baby. One word of warning I give to mothers of onlys: don’t spend TOO much time with your child. Give the child the gift of learning how to be alone once in a while. A baby does not learn how to self-calm or self-entertain if you are right there all the time.
Because there is some evidence that only children have higher levels of separation anxiety than siblings do, the baby should have some other-than-mother care. ALL children need some other-than-mother care.
Some mothers who stay at home full-time don’t believe this but it’s true. Here’s why. If the only faces you have ever seen belong to Mommy and Daddy you might get uptight when those faces go away. While if you have practiced saying “Bye-bye” to Mommy since you were little and know she comes back in a while it may be easier to wave goodbye at preschool.
Another reason is that babies are born with the ability to look at and relate to faces. They learn very early how to smile at and beguile the people attached to faces. This is their survival mechanism. If Mother got eaten by a saber-toothed tiger Baby knew how to charm another person into providing necessary care.
So all babies, whether or not they have siblings, need practice in looking at different faces. They need to learn that all people have faces but that each person is different. Learning to differentiate one face from another is an important skill.
There are three keys to rearing all children whether only children or children with siblings: love, loving enough to let go, and loving enough to let learn.
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