By Julia Pelly
Kids may ask for a younger sister or brother at various phases of life. Here’s how to support them through the disappointment of not having a sibling when they really want one. Once you’re a parent for a couple of years, you’re likely used to ignoring or dismissing when people ask when you’re going to have another baby. While this question can feel rude and intrusive when it comes from friends, family, or even strangers, it’s definitely easy to change the subject on them. But when your own baby starts asking for a little brother or sister, things can start to feel more complicated.
“My son was around 3 years old when he started asking if he was going to get a baby brother or sister,” says Victoria Pollard, a mother of one. “I think around that time he saw some of his friends getting baby siblings and he wondered if that was something our family would do.” Initially, Pollard struggled to answer his questions, “I love being a family of three, and I think it’s right for us, but there’s a big part of you that wants to make your child happy,” she says. “I never thought about having another baby unless my son was asking about it and then it did make me think, should I? Am I being selfish? Is he missing out on something?”
While it’s common for kids to wonder why their family doesn’t look like another that they’ve seen in person or on television, for some children, the desire for a sibling is more than just a passive wondering. “Not all only children have a desire for a sibling, but for those that do, it can be normal for the issue to come up again and again at different points in their childhood,” says Michelle Harris, founder and CEO of Parenting Pathfinders. “As kids are growing through different stages, they might miss the sibling they don’t have in different ways. A 3-year-old might wonder why he doesn’t have a sibling because his best friend does. A 6-year-old might long for the playmate she imagines a sibling would be, and a teenager may wish for a confidant as he navigates late adolescence.”
For many only children, pandemic-related shutdowns and the resulting loneliness made the desire for a sibling seem more urgent. “For a lot of kids, being out of school and stuck at home has really put a spotlight on some of the desires they’ve had for a sibling as they imagine what it would be like to have a buddy at home with them,” says Dr. Leela R. Magavi, an adult, adolescent and child psychiatrist and the regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, California’s largest outpatient mental health organization.
When kids struggle to manage their feelings of disappointment around not having a sibling, parents might be unsure about the best way to respond. Experts say that, while this particular disappointment can feel unique, parents can feel confident responding in much the same way they would to any major disappointment a child experiences. “No matter what the issue is,” says Dr. Magavi, “there are things parents can do to help kids process and move through disappointment that will help them thrive in the long run.”
Validate their big feelings:
When kids express big feelings, it’s important for parents to make sure they know they are heard. “Parents can validate their kid’s feelings by actively listening to what they are saying and responding by sharing back what you heard them say,” says Harris. Validation often sounds like, “I hear how much you want a sibling, I know it can be hard not to have something that you really want. I’m so glad that you’re telling me the things that you want and that are important to you.”
Answer questions in an age-appropriate manner.
Kids of a certain age often seem like “why?” machines, but it can be tough for parents to know what they should or shouldn’t share with their kids. This can be especially true when the reason they don’t have a sibling feels like a grown-up topic. “I encourage parents to think about their child’s age and the information they are capable of handling and find a way to tell them why they don’t have a sibling in an age-appropriate manner,” says Dr. Magavi. “When kids don’t know why they’re missing something in their life, they often believe it has something to do with them.”
Get to the bottom of their desire.
While the desire for a sibling may seem simple on the surface, the reason behind the desire can vary greatly from kid to kid. “Some kids imagine that a sibling might fill the role of a playmate while others like the idea of having a baby to care for and still others imagine that it would give them a sense of closeness that they’re not feeling with other family members,” says Harris. When parents respond with curiosity and a desire to learn more about why their child has such a strong desire, they might be able to help meet the underlying needs in other ways.
Respond clearly and highlight the positives.
It might feel softer to respond with a “maybe” rather than a “no,” but parents should avoid giving their children false hope if they know they won’t be adding to their family. “It’s important to be compassionate, but clear,” says Dr. Magavi. “If circumstance, rather than choice has dictated their family size, parents can share that they too wish things were different and can then highlight the great things about their family exactly as it is.”
Teach strategies for dealing with sadness.
“Different tools work for different kids,” says Dr. Magavi. “Parents can encourage kids to try out a range of strategies for coping with feelings of sadness like painting, drawing, journaling, talking with friends or family members, exercising, or engaging in another hobby they enjoy.” Once the kids identify strategies that work for them, parents can remind them of what has helped them feel better in the past if they’re feeling particularly down.
Sometimes, managing a child’s persistent desire for a sibling can take an emotional toll on parents, especially if they too experience sadness about their family size. “It’s okay to set loving boundaries,” says Harris. “It’s okay to tell a child that you’ve already responded to their question and ask them to remind you what you said instead of going over the same things time and again.”
Victoria Pollard’s son is happy and thriving in school and a recent move landed their family in a neighborhood with a lot of other kids his age. “I think having so many kids to play with and getting to spend a lot of great quality time with myself and his dad have helped him move past the questions he used to ask about having a sibling,” says Pollard. She’s looking forward to seeing him grow up and enjoying life as a family of three. “I love our little unit,” she says, “it feels perfect for us.”
In a similar development, we bring you in this edition, tips on how to raise a genius child.
- Feed your child with required nutrients
Developing the genius in your child is a journey that begins from the conception stage. And since unborn babies get their food through their pregnant mothers, it is important that mothers-to-be pay close attention to what they eat.
Some foods aid the learning capacity of the child while others play a negative role. Take vitamins that will supply the required nutrient for child development during pregnancy. These vitamins are folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin B12, zinc, and after birth, allow your child to enjoy exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Doing these sharpen the child’s brain and aid better academic performance. However, pregnant women must consult their doctor before taking any of these supplements or medications.
Children should also feed on a protein-rich diet like egg, fish, meat and milk. This will help to improve their attention, reasoning, and alertness. Allow your child to eat carbohydrates that come from whole grain as this serves as fuel for the brain. Finally, ensure you do not leave out vitamins and minerals from your child’s meal.
- Encourage early learning
The question many parents always ask is: “when should I start exposing my child to learning”? The answer we always like to give is that it can never be too early to start learning. Early childhood education is very important. The moment after the birth of your baby, even the following day after birth. A baby can recognize some words often used with them. As one of the tips for raising a genius child, reading aloud with them helps improve their concentration ability. It also helps improve their range of sound and word over time.
Expose your child to simple arithmetic even from the early stage. Calling numbers to them is a good start. Remember to say it loud. Expose your child to science and some engineering discoveries too.
- Introduce coding to your child early
To help your child become a genius, expose him/her to coding early. The reason is that coding helps in the development of some abilities such as creative problem-solving ability, logical reasoning, computational thinking, and others. Coding creates some curiosity in your child about the technology behind the system. It also lays the foundation for future technological advancement.
- Give your child smart computer games
The adage says, “All work without play, makes Jack a dull boy.” So, allowing your child to play with smart computer games, after a study period, is a way to develop his or her reasoning skills. Aside from developing reasoning skills, games also improve hand-eye coordination, develop the mind and enhance learning — such as arithmetic reasoning, musical instruments, phonics, words, rhymes, and many others.
- Don’t over structure your child’s life
It will be of great help if you allow your child to decide on what he/she wishes to do at a particular time. Compelling your child to live out your script will make him/her live below his/her ability. Children who are constrained with a pattern of schedule display lower levels of executive functioning, compared with children who are not constrained with a pattern of schedule.
Executive function helps children in various ways throughout their daily lives. Examples of activities that can foster executive functioning in children include switching between different activities rather than doing only one thing and keeping calm when angry instead of yelling. Executive function during childhood predicts important outcomes such as academic performance, health, wealth, criminality, years and even decades. This is one of the surefire ways to raise a genius child.
- Foster your child’s creativity
Although children are born creative, parents can improve this ability if well nurtured. Help them to develop creative ability in arts, sciences, and other problem-solving experiences. You can achieve this based on what you expose your child to. Expose your child to literature, music, musical instrument, artworks, and Mother Nature. This can help increase creativity.
- Help develop grit in your child.
This is the ability you develop in your child that creates the desire to pursue long term goals. This should come with commitment, hard work, persistence and determination. Having grit will distinguish a potentially successful person from his peers. Grit will help develop success instincts in your child. You can develop this attribute in your child by showing him or her some reasons for people’s failure, using examples that relate to lack of commitment. Also, state some limitations that may prevent people from pursuing their goals.
- Allow your child to take risks and fail
Life is full of risk. Therefore; allowing your child to take risks will give him or her opportunity to make some decisions personally. This helps to build the potential of genius in your child. Raising a genius child starts with allowing them to become risk-takers. This process brings clarity, understanding, and innovations. Failure or mistakes lead to pivotal questions. Answers place children in a position to develop new insight required for success. The actualization of a great invention by the genius, Thomas Edison, was once filled with a series of failures. So, it is important to allow them to fail but encourage them to try again in a different way until they get results.
- Allow your child to be a problem solver
Problem solvers are thinkers. Permit your child to think and come up with ideas that will be the solution to certain problems. A genius is a person who does extraordinary things. Achievement in a little thing encourages deeper thinking for greater solutions. Thus, fixing every problem for your child limits the genius ability in him/her. Allowing your child to be a problem solver is one of the most important tips for raising a genius child.
- Praise your child for hard work, instead of “being smart”
Praising your child’s effort helps him or her see that achieving success is entirely up to his or her ability, to a reasonable extent. In this same vein, praising the smartness of your child might be unhelpful for early childhood development. Even though there is a phrase that says “it’s better to work smart, than to work hard’’, it’s not encouraged for children at this level. A child should be taught to follow through a process to completion and be encouraged to take on rigorous tasks, in order to build resilience for hard work. Furthermore, parents should embrace the efforts of their children in order to develop a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.
- Discover and develop your child’s talent
Raising a genius child might sound like a daunting task, but if you can discover and develop your child’s talent, you are on the road to success. Observe your child’s interest and passion, and push for development in that path. Many parents often care more about educational advancement, with less focus on discovering the child’s talent. Pursuing your child’s talent also opens him or her up for developing intellectual ability. This talent may need special tutoring and exposure. Therefore, endeavour to go the extra mile to bring out the genius in your child.
- Don’t label your child a genius
Labeling your child a genius will put a great burden on him or her. This can be hard to live up to, as he or she is forced to deal with measuring up to expectations on a daily basis. While this can make the child better, it can also lead to frustrations when the outcome is contrary.
In summary, whether your child is born a genius or made a genius, stimulating him or her in certain ways can set the stage for the infant’s brain to begin a developmental trajectory that will influence what he or she becomes in future. You can make your genius by starting early and encouraging hard work along with diverse exposure.