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Sins of the fathers -- and mothers -- can be forgiven and corrected

| Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Carolyn White, editor of "Only Child" online magazine in Los Angeles, wrote a book called "The Seven Common Sins of Parenting an Only Child: A Guide for Parents and Families." She outlines parenting sins and suggests remedies.

Sin #1: Overindulgence, either material or emotional. It's easy to give only children everything they want, because it tends to be affordable when there's no one else for whom to provide. Often, the motivation for spoiling the child is guilt because of having only one.

"Parents just need to learn to say no and have parameters and boundaries," White says. "Just because your kid is 13 years old, it doesn't mean he needs a cell phone. Kids who get everything don't know how to limit themselves."

Emotionally, a parent may become overly invested in an only child, which can create dependency and a guilt complex in the child.

"Parents have to learn to let go ... they've got to encourage (the child) to move along," she says.

Sin #2 : Overprotection. It's tempting to shield your only child from pain and challenges as much as possible, but this well-intentioned practice has damaging consequences. Plus, children need plenty of social interaction and peer relationships, with all of the joys and heartaches.

"Keeping your kids from experiencing the slings and arrows of life will not make him or her become a competent human being," says White, who discourages homeschooling only children for the same reason.

Sin #3: Failure to discipline. The problem is not unique to parents of only children, but it can become a bigger problem more easily, because one child's misbehavior is seen as not a big deal, compared to a group squabble among siblings. Don't let your child have too much say in the household, White says.

"I think there are some parents who would rather be sentenced to 10 years of watching Barney than deny their kid a privilege," she says.

Sin #4: Overcompensating. Only-child parents, usually because of guilt, often try too hard to make their kids happy, knowing that they lack a sibling. Comments from family, friends and society -- such as, "This is a terrible thing you're doing to this kid" -- fuel that guilt. And the comments are not true, White says. Think about all of the siblings that don't get along.

"Parents who think that providing a sibling ... are providing them lifelong companionship and support -- there's no guarantee of that, and they're deluding themselves."

Sin #5: Seeking perfection. After all, your child is your one and only, and it's easy to fall into this trap.

"When you have one child, I think the general feeling is, all my eggs are in one basket," White says.

Treat your only child as if he or she were one of many flawed human beings in the same household. Otherwise, your child could develop self-esteem problems and become a people-pleaser. Back off.

Sin #6: Treating your child like an adult. It's easy, when you have an only child, to make the child part of your marriage -- and, if you're single, to make the child your confidant.

"Your child is not your partner; your child is your kid," White says. "Parents who fail to create boundaries between the adult world and the kid world make the world seem very unsafe. Making your child a friend is a very dangerous situation."

Seek out adult company for your adult things, and seek out kid company for your child's kid things. And, leave the child at home when going to an event that would be inappropriate for children.

Sin #7: Overpraising. Praising your child is wonderful, but it's a bit much to tell your son that he is the best basketball player in the world, or tell your daughter that she is the prettiest girl in the whole world.

"Kids who are overpraised are very often kids who really don't have a real sense of who they are" -- or, they can be conceited, White says.

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