I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “mom, mom, mom” in the last hour, let alone month. When we decided to have an only child, we assumed he’d always have plenty of interaction with other kids. We never anticipated that the three of us would be isolated in our home for months on end. This era of social distancing means that our son will not have in-person visit with another child for an undetermined amount of time.
I know that we are spared from the endless sibling squabbles, next-level multitasking, and teaching multiple grade levels at home – kudos to you parents of two, three or more! Though, I worry that this ‘only-child syndrome’ thing may be taken to a whole new level as we navigate this new world of isolation.
While he’s happy and thriving (there are kids who have endured far worse!), I want to ensure he is not missing out on the social stimulation needed to support his development at this age. I am finding him harassing our cat, or talking to our Google Home, far too often. Here are some ways I’m trying to keep my ‘only’ from getting too lonely.
Before COVID-19 there was no way I was giving my 4-year-old a device – especially my own phone – to use to chat with his friends. But now? He’s using Messenger Kids, WhatsApp, Zoom and Facetime to connect with friends from school, cousins and grandparents. Chatting with those he used to see regularly has given him some normalcy, even if these four-year-olds just say silly things, or co-exist virtually, saying nothing at all. I’ve been showing him Instagram stories that parent friends post of the kids he knows. He’s able to see that his peers are doing the same thing as him. And for grandparents, a video chat is like a big virtual hug, brightening their day as much as ours.
Walking the neighbourhood
We try to get out every day, no matter what the weather. Each time we do, we see classmates and bus buddies playing in their yards or out on a bike ride. My son is overjoyed to say hello from a distance and see that his pals are doing the same things he does. I’ve seen that older kids are leaving each other notes with chalk on their driveways, and we’ve use our walk to pop notes in the mail for friends.
Making time for play
This is a tough one for me, because I would rather work, make dinner or tidy up than pretend I am Rubble waiting on my mission from Chase. I often find myself saying ‘no’ to these silly requests, but I have to catch myself. My kiddo has no one else to engage in imaginative play, parallel play or anything else that four-year-olds like to do. It has to be me or my husband. This means I’m playing a game of tag in the house or dressing up much more often than I would like to, but my son is fulfilled when I say, ‘yes’ to play.
Having an honest chat
Our children are sensing our anxiety and fear, and for an only child who is around only stressed out adults, they can really internalize these feelings themselves. I make a point to ask my son if he has any questions about everything that’s going on and to talk about what he’s feeling. I try to keep things age-appropriate, but factual. I want to assure him that this situation is temporary and that I’m proud of him for handling it so well.
In the end, kids are generally resilient and most of our kids will get through this unscathed. While the lack of sibling bickering just might be saving our sanity, those of us who are parents of ‘only’ kids may just need to put in some extra TLC these days.