Only children and compromise

Q: My six-year-old daughter is an only child and I worry about her learning to compromise with other children. I provide lots of opportunities for peer interaction, but is there more I should be doing?

A: Ample opportunities to interact with peers can have a tremendous positive influence on an only child’s social skill development. However, adults too can greatly impact a child’s success with peers by proving valuable practice behind the scenes.

Parents of only children often allow their child to have his or her own way in low-stake decisions because they find it more peaceful, want to give the child a sense of power, or simply don’t care much about the decision at stake (such as watching Toy Story 1 instead of 2). But in always taking the road of least resistance, they’re missing golden opportunities to teach problem-solving and compromise in a low-stress environment. Occasionally problem-solving through minor disagreements, such as over which book to read, with adults gives children practice listening to different views, expressing their own views respectfully, and brainstorming solutions without feeling overwhelmed by heightened emotions. Just like actors need to rehearse lines repeatedly off-stage before they can perform them seamlessly in front of an audience, children need to memorize skills “off-stage” before they can call them up in the heat of peer conflict.

Putting your own preferences on the table not only creates great opportunities to problem-solve and compromise, but also demonstrates that the needs and wants of others matter too and should be taken into consideration.

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