I Feel Bad: My Only Child is Lonely During Quarantine

As I write this, it’s the middle of April and we’re about one month into social distancing. My husband and I have been working from home and my daughter has been home from school. Mentally and physically, we’ve all been doing OK, but I’m starting to notice how lonely this is for my only child.

A photo of a lonely, only child.

Our 5-year-old is our only child, but she’s rarely without other children.

She spends her day at a preschool she loves, with a group of other kids she talks endlessly about. She’s very social and outgoing, and also spends time with the neighborhood kids, cousins, and my friends’ kids. She always asks me to schedule play dates. So, even though she’s an outgoing person that lives in a home without any other kids, it’s rarely an issue.

However, quarantining at home has completely changed this. At first she didn’t seem to mind it because she enjoyed slowing down from her daily routine and more time with mom and dad. However, a few weeks in I can now tell she really misses being with other kids.

She’s lonely and also confused about why we can’t have anyone over to play.

She doesn’t really understand when she sees a neighbor friend in their driveway and she’s not allowed to go join them like usual. She knows it’s “because of the germs” and she obliges but doesn’t really know why we are doing this.

I’ve recently noticed her talking to her stuffed animals more and more and also trying to recruit the cat to be her friend (the cat does not like this). I realized just how isolated she’s been when we were making cookies and she started talking to the chocolate chips! They didn’t answer her when she asked them if they liked being candy.

When we first started quarantining, she seemed to think it was cool that she got to stay home from school (she’s too young to really get the severity of what’s going on). But now, she’s bringing up going back to school more and more and talks about her school friends a lot.

Since we’ve noticed how lonely she’s become, we’ve tried to do what we can to ease the burden and found a few things that help:

Messenger Kids

My daughter is in preschool, so sending and receiving messages from friends isn’t really a thing yet, but she think it’s cool to have a way to stay in touch with her friends. I put the app on her Fire tablet and she thinks it’s fun to send pictures or drawings back and forth.

Video Chats

We’ve been FaceTiming with family and friends. My daughter loves to pop in and chat with her grandparents and aunts and uncles. This week, she had a video chat with her friend from preschool and I could tell how much she  lit up being able to engage with a friend her age. They brought out some toys to play with in front of the phone and showed each other their yards, and it warmed my heart to watch.

Mail and Deliveries

We’ve been sending and receiving a lot more mail than usual. She has been coloring pictures for her friends and putting them in the mailbox. It’s also been a method to sneak in a learning activity, as I’ll guide her through writing a message on the drawing, and then we practice addressing an envelope.

Last week, a friend also dropped off a batch of cookies and a note on our front porch and it was the best part of my daughter’s day. So we decided to return the favor and made a batch of cookies over the weekend and made some deliveries (without interacting with anyone besides a wave from the window). It was a fun way to show people we’re thinking about them.

Suck it Up and Play Pretend

Earlier this year another contributor wrote a great post on how they do not like imaginative play. Before the post was written, a group of us talked about how we also don’t like “playing pretend” with our kids and that a few minutes can feel like hours. I felt better when I learned I wasn’t alone in this and that it was an overwhelming majority that held this opinion.

Usually, I don’t have to engage in much imaginative play because she is with other preschoolers throughout the day who like to play the same games. But now that we’ve been home, the “Mom, will you play with me?” question has been happening more and more. So, I’ve been saying yes more because I know she’s isolated from her friends. But to make it more tolerable, I set the expectation up front for how long I can play and set a timer so  there are no arguments for when Mom says that she’s done. Now that I’ve been using the timer trick, I’ve noticed fewer groans when I tell her I’m getting up. I also try to casually suggest play activities I don’t mind as much, like chalk on the driveway, puzzles, or coloring books.

Get Outside

I’m glad that we’ve had a few nice days to get out and get some fresh air. I think we all appreciate the opportunity to wave to neighbors and shout “hi!” to the other families from across the street. It’s also fun to still be able to feel the sense of community — even though we can’t see anyone — through the chalk drawings and window decorations.

For all of you other only child parents — this is hard! I think we can acknowledge that. I’m not raising multiple children, and I assume that overall it’s more difficult. But there are some unique challenges to having an only child, especially during this time. They have no one else to interact with besides you (and any other adults who live in the house) and all of the attention is overwhelming. It’s hard to get anything done when she is with me all day long. My assumption is that siblings offload some of this burden a bit, though I guess I don’t know that for certain.

My daughter constantly asks my husband or me for help with something, nonsense questions, for more snacks, etc. She also spends a lot of time following us around asking what we are doing. I understand that she doesn’t actually need all of these things she’s requesting or answers to all of her questions, but instead just needs to engage with someone and that’s how it comes out.

What challenges are other parents with only children facing during this time?

Brigette lives in North Liberty with her husband Brian, energetic daughter Kate (October 2014) and their two cats, Penny and Olive. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Brigette came to Iowa City to attend the journalism school at the University of Iowa, fell in love with the area, and decided she couldn’t leave. After meeting Brian while working at the same Iowa City restaurant in college, they got married in August 2015 in the heart of downtown. She works full time in project management and as an employee of the Core Fitness Kids Club while finishing her MBA at Upper Iowa University. In her free time, she drags Kate out garage sale-ing, tries to keep up with her reading list and runs, lives for Hawkeye football season, enjoys a good meal on a patio, runs her Bachelor/Bachelorette bracket with her family and friends, and of course, chases her daughter around the pool and the park.


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