Some couples immediately know they want, say, three kids, while other couples know they are done after having just one. Having an only child is becoming more and more common. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, families with just one child have nearly doubled since the 1960s. In fact, 1 in 5 American families now has an only child. Even with so many families having just one child, only children frequently get a bad rap – as do the parents who choose to have them. The belief that a child without siblings suffers from only child syndrome is a myth. Let’s bust some of these myths about only children and look at the benefits of having an only child.
What is Only Child Syndrome?
Only child syndrome is based on the belief that having an only child is harmful to the child. Some people believe that only children are lonely, selfish, spoiled, and unstable. Study after study has proven these ideas to be untrue, yet people will still warn parents of “onlys” that their kid will grow up spoiled and rotten unless they have another child.
The reason people believe that an only child will grow up to be selfish and spoiled is all thanks to G. Stanley Hall who was a psychologist and popular child-rearing expert in the late 19th century. He conducted a number of unscientific and flawed studies, which led to the concept of only child syndrome. He declared that being an only child was so damaging to a person’s character that it was a “disease unto itself.” Unfortunately, even though Hall’s claims have been proven untrue countless times, his assertions still run deep in popular culture.
Sure, some only children may be at risk of having difficulties in certain social situations or have a hard time sharing the spotlight. But the fact of the matter is, that is not the case across the board and can be equally as true for some children with siblings.
4 Common Myths – Busted
Myth #1: Only children are lonely.
Have an only child and the first thing you will hear from every grandparent and distant relative you know is that your child will be lonely. It seems to be at the top of those only child syndrome warnings. It is true that only children spend more time alone than children with siblings. That just seems pretty common sense since they do not have other kids running around at home with them. However, being alone does not equal loneliness.
Spending time alone actually benefits only children in a number of ways. Not only does being alone strengthen character in only children, but it also helps them to have strong self-awareness. Because they spend more time alone than children with siblings, only children learn about themselves. They know what they like and dislike. They understand what they enjoy doing and what about those things they really enjoy. They are able to spend time discovering themselves in ways that children with siblings sometimes are not able to do because they are too busy going along with everyone else.
Another advantage that only children have because they spend more time alone is being able to entertain themselves. Only children are good at finding things to occupy themselves. They can play alone and do not have to be around other people to feel entertained. This ability is increasingly important in the world of constant stimulus that we live in today. Only children are able to sit and play and just be.
Myth #2: Only children are selfish.
Another common only child syndrome accusation is that only children are selfish. This is absolutely untrue. Endless research shows that only children are no more self-involved than anyone else. It turns out that sibling rivalry is not the only thing that can put a child’s ego in check. Their peers and classmates do the job just as well.
Only children are just as loving and kind as children with siblings. Kids are good, caring, empathetic people when they learn these traits from their parents – regardless of whether or not they have siblings.
Myth #3: Only children are spoiled.
The constant only child syndrome warning that parents of one child hear is that only children will be spoiled. Many people think that because there is only one child, that child is going to get anything and everything they want all the time. This is just untrue. Any child can be spoiled and overindulged whether they are an only child or not. This is another thing that studies are showing has more to do with parenting than the number of children in a family.
Myth #4: Only children do not know how to socialize.
Another myth perpetuated by only child syndrome is that only children cannot make friends and do not know how to act in social situations. Can this be true? Certainly. Just as it can be true for a child with siblings. However, and again a lot to do with parenting, as long as a child is socialized from a young age, only children grow up to be normal, adjusted adults with friends (just like any other child).
The fact is, only children have just as many friends as children with siblings, so all that alone time does not have a negative impact on an only child’s ability to make friends and maintain friendships. Because children are socialized through play dates, at daycare, and through other opportunities like swim lessons and pee-wee soccer, only children are not more spoiled, selfish or aggressive than their peers. Only children tend to cherish friendships and think of their friends as family, making only children loyal long-term friends.
Benefits of Having an Only Child
There are plenty of benefits to having an only child. Parents with one child have more resources to devote to an only child – more time, money, attention, and energy. Because of this concentration of resources, only children thrive. They often have higher intelligence and higher achievement rates than their peers. Only children also typically have higher self-esteem than kids with siblings. All of this attention may lead to only children contributing more to society than children with siblings.
Only children also get to experience more intensely emotional family lives. Only children have all the attention and love of their parents. This intense concentration of support and emotion can be enriching for children.
Then there are the financial benefits. According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Expenditures on Children by Families, 2015, the estimated expense to raise a child from birth through age 17 is $233,610. While money is not the only factor that contributes to families choosing to have one child, children are a significant expense. Having multiple children may limit the things you can do such as sports, art classes, or traveling, but having only one child can free up resources to explore more of these things.
People need to understand that having an only child is a valid family choice. Happier parents mean a happier family, regardless of the number of children in that family. The decision to have one or five children is a personal decision that no one can make for someone else. There is no right or wrong answer. One child might very well be the best number for your family. The good news is you may have the next Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Betty White, or Frank Sinatra on your hands.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on How You Can Help Your Child Discover Their Best Self
Sources: Why one isn’t always the loneliest number, Only Child Syndrome – A Real Thing or Unnecessary Worry?, Only Children: Lonely and Selfish?, Is Growing Up Without Siblings a Disadvantage?, Expenditures on Children by Families, 2015
Photo Credits: Meacreations Photography, Unsplash.com
I love this article! I am a single mother of a 9 year old girl. I come of a really large family and have 6 siblings nd I am the 4th child. It is nice to have such a large family but I choose for me that one was enough. My entire family dissagreed, and in the attempt to convince me to have more have mentioned all the above negative myths, even the part where I’m being selfish, witch hearing that from my own mother really hurt my feelings. I know I did the right desicion, it gives me enough energy for her and time to be the best perent my perents weren’t and all the special attention a blooming young lady needs. And the beat part of so many siblings is that all the cousins make up for all the brothers and sisters she dosent have, and at the end of the day she has her pice and quiet just like we both like it.
Ahaha, no no no. I don’t agree with number 1. Only children are, in fact, very lonely. I myself am an only child, and I feel I was deprived the experience of interacting with other children on a daily basis, which ultimately resulted in me being very awkward in social situations and not having very many friends. The few friends I do have have one or more siblings and are all very outgoing. My three cousins (children of my mother’s brother) are also very outgoing and approachable because they had each other, but another cousin of mine (child of my mother’s sister) is in the same boat as me. She felt very lonely and suffered because of it, only being able to make a single friend. Even now at age 15, she still feels very alone, and neither of us have high self esteem, as this article suggests. So please don’t try to use scientific “fact” to tell us how an only child is. While it isn’t selfish for parents to only want one child, I myself am planning to have at least two children, just so they don’t have to have such a terribly lonely childhood.
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