- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2003

Think big, even if you have a small family. That is the advice Susan Newman, a social psychologist, gives to parents who are concerned that their only will fall into one of the common only-child stereotypes.

“When you go to do something for your child, think and operate as if you had four kids so you don’t become your child’s slave,” says Ms. Newman, who holds a doctoral degree and is author of the book “Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only.”

“If you wouldn’t pick up four piles of clothes off the floor or make four special dinners, then don’t do it for one,” she says.

That advice also will go a long way in safeguarding against overindulgence. Just because you are toy shopping for one child doesn’t mean you should buy out the store, says Charles White, the father of an only child and founder of the Web site and quarterly publication Only Child.

Another common mistake parents make is to overcompensate for the guilt that may accompany having an only child, Mr. White says. This can come in the form of being at a child’s beck and call, he explains. A few small changes can help children understand that they may be the center of the household — but not the center of the universe. Among them:

• Set limits. If you said you would read a story to your child but he wants three stories, say no. Practice saying “I am busy now, you will have to wait,” or “This is the time where you play by yourself for 15 minutes while Mom reads the newspaper,” Mr. White says.

• Set rules. Even young children can pitch in at home. Make sure an only child is subject to certain expectations — such as putting toys away or making his bed.

Imparting those limits is an important lesson for grandparents and other relatives, Ms. Newman says.

“When relatives come over, they are always bringing something,” she says. “My son used to look directly at people’s hands to see what they had. You can request that relatives cut back on the gifts.”

Lowering expectations can ease the feeling of being under the microscope, Ms. Newman says. You are not perfect, so don’t expect your child to be.

“Only children know full well they are bringing home the only report card or performing in the only piano recital,” she says. “They feel that pressure.”

Jane Annunziata agrees. A McLean psychologist, Ms. Annunziata is a parent of an only child and author of the book “Why Am I an Only Child?”

“When you have one, you want them to be everything — an academic star, a sports hero,” she says. “You shouldn’t pressure. You should encourage your child, but realize you can’t get your own needs met through your children, whether you have one child or four.”

Other common mistakes to avoid:

mTreating a child like an adult. Onlies tend to circulate with more adults — but that doesn’t mean they are grown up. Set boundaries between the generations. Parents often include onlies in decisions such as where to go on vacation, and then the child ends up making the family decisions.

“Remember, you worked hard to be a parent,” Mr. White says. “Enjoy the status. When your child is old enough, he will be the parent and have all the rights, privileges and grief that goes along with that position.”

mOverprotection. Parents of onlies often want to protect their child from disappointment and harm. This is another impulse to avoid, Ms. Newman says.

“Overprotection is a problem when you watch every single move,” she says. “If your child is involved in a scuffle, it is important not to step in, to let them work it out.”

• Having a sibling just because your only wants one. At some point, most onlies will ask for a baby brother or sister.

“The pleas for siblings are concentrated during those years when an only child’s friends are greeting siblings,” Ms. Newman writes in her book. “So many children will want what they don’t have, even when they don’t understand the difference or possible alterations to their lives.

“No matter what your child says, no matter how much she pesters, no child should make the decision about the ultimate size of the family.”

Ms. Newman says straight talk is best when approaching this subject. Detailed accounts of the reality of a new baby have changed many young minds, she says. Explain that you are happy with the family the way it is. Emphasize the positive points of being an only child.

Besides, sometimes what a child is asking for is indeed a fantasy. Lori Weinraub Tautges, a Springfield woman who has an only child, says her 5-year-old daughter repeatedly requests a big brother.

“Even if I had three more children, she still wouldn’t have a big brother,” Mrs. Tautges says.

MORE INFO:

BOOKS —

M”PARENTING AN ONLY CHILD: THE JOYS AND CHALLENGES OF RAISING YOUR ONE AND ONLY,” BY SUSAN NEWMAN, PH.D., BROADWAY BOOKS, 2001. THIS UPDATED VERSION OF MS. NEWMAN’S 1990 BOOK EXPLAINS THE STEREOTYPES AND MYTHS SURROUNDING ONLY CHILDREN. IT ALSO HAS TIPS FOR PARENTS WHO ARE TRYING TO DECIDE WHETHER TO EXPAND THEIR FAMILY.

• “YOU AND YOUR ONLY CHILD: THE JOYS, MYTHS, AND CHALLENGES OF RAISING AN ONLY,” BY PATRICIA A. NACHMAN WITH ANDREA THOMPSON, PERENNIAL PRESS, 1998. THIS BOOK GOES OVER THE PROS AND CONS OF RAISING AN ONLY CHILD.

• “WHY AM I AN ONLY CHILD?” BY JANE ANNUNZIATA AND MARC A. NEMIROFF, MAGINATION PRESS, 1998. THIS PICTURE BOOK FOR CHILDREN AGES 4 TO 7 TELLS THE STORY OF EUDORA, A RHINO WHO WONDERS WHY SHE IS AN ONLY. IT CAN BE HELPFUL IN EXPLAINING THE SITUATION TO YOUNG CHILDREN.

PUBLICATION —

MONLY CHILD, 137 N. LARCHMONT BLVD., NO. 556, LOS ANGELES, CA 90004. PHONE: 800/478-3452. WEB SITE: WWW.ONLYCHILD.COM. ONLY CHILD IS A QUARTERLY SUBSCRIPTION PUBLICATION FOUNDED AND EDITED BY CHARLES AND CAROLYN WHITE, PARENTS OF A NOW-GROWN ONLY CHILD. IT CONTAINS ADVICE, ARTICLES AND PROFILES OF SUCCESSFUL ONLIES.

ONLINE —

• PARENTSOUP (WWW.PARENTSOUP.COM), THE COMMERCIAL PARENTING WEB SITE OPERATED BY IVILLAGE, HAS A BULLETIN BOARD FOR PARENTS OF ONLIES.

MPARENTS PLACE (WWW.PARENTSPLACE.COM), ALSO A COMMERCIAL DIVISION OF IVILLAGE, HAS A MESSAGE BOARD FOR PARENTS OF ONLY CHILDREN.

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