Only children don't need to be lonely children during the pandemic

Only children face unique challenges as they adjust to sheltering in place without the company of siblings.

(CNN)No siblings. No pals on the block. No reason to leave her home. Yet one month into sheltering in place with her parents in Los Angeles, 14-year-old only child Sofia Nagel isn't bumming too hard about being all alone.

Sofia Nagel
The ninth grader has been teaching her mother how to play Minecraft. She has been learning how to skateboard. Just last week, she and one of her best buddies leveraged gamer app Discord and YouTube to launch a video blog series titled "Coronavirus Diaries" about their experiences during quarantine.
    The video, about 90 seconds long, is endearing in its honesty: Nagel and her friend make it clear they're doing it to build community and bridge the interpersonal gaps created by social distancing.
      "We first wanted to create a gaming channel [but] then we decided that there are already so many of those," she told CNN the day after the video launched. "We hope that people will find happiness from it, and [that it will] distract them from the sad news coming in. It's a good substitute since we aren't allowed to get together."
        Nagel's effort is a breath of fresh air in this time of widespread isolation.

        Going it alone

          It's also proof that across the country, in just about every age bracket, only children are learning that sheltering in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, is different when they must do it without the company of siblings or peers at home.
          With no other kids around, the experience can be quiet and boring, and it can necessitate a certain degree of independence. Other potential pitfalls include feeling isolated, or depression.
          Then, of course, there is the yin and yang of a solo kid needing their parents but also wanting space from them.
          "Only children are used to being by themselves, but this is totally different," said Adrienne Heinz, clinical and research psychologist at the Veterans Affairs National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. "We're social creatures, and kids enjoy attention.
          "Without being able to see friends, with mom and dad working from home — whether you're talking about only children or kids with siblings, it's all just a lot for them to process."
          Parents can help their kids work through their feelings, "and help validate these difficult emotions that might include disappointment, jealousy, grief or anger," Heinz added. "This can be through conversation, art, writing, music or any medium that resonates most closely with the family."

          Only children among us

          It's not an exaggeration to say that single-child families are trending here in the United States. The proportion of mothers who had one child at the end of their childbearing years doubled to 22% in 2015 from 11% in 1976, according to data from Pew Research Center in Washington, DC.
          Statistics from the US Census support this trajectory, indicating that only-child families are the fastest-growing family unit in the country.
          How these only children internalize social distancing depends entirely on how they cope with hardship and unexpected drama in general, said Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author who has researched and written multiple books about only children.
          "Just like there are people who can entertain themselves and people who can't, so too are there only children who can entertain themselves and only children who can't," she said. The best thing parents of only children can do during this crisis is to acknowledge a range of emotions as valid and OK, she added.
          More than ever, we need nature. It makes us and our children happier