The Only Child

Some couples may have difficulty becoming pregnant. Fertility treatments are expensive, stressful and time-consuming. After a prolonged period of trying to conceive, these couples may opt to give birth to, or adopt one child. Other couples may be conscientious of their finances in comparison to the expenses of raising a child. For whatever reason, many of these parents often have to cope with society’s disapproval and wonder if they’ve made the right decision.

Being an only child is a disease in itself” – G. Stanley Hall, psychologist, 1844-1924

Only children typically get a bad rap. They’re considered spoilt, self, lonely, nosy, over-ambitious and outspoken. When a couple decides to have one child, their family unit isn’t considered the norm; how often have you heard reference to “the 2-and-a-half children with a white picket fence” ideal (as if half a child was ever considered normal). Even the field of psychology once frowned on onlies, believing them more likely to experience psychopathology than children with siblings. But is it as bad as society makes it out to be? On the law books, China certainly doesn’t think so.

The last two decades or so of research have compared only children to children with siblings, and it has been concluded that there’s much ado about very little. Only children:

  • score slightly higher on intelligence tests when they are young. The discrepancy disappears in adolescence.
  • are similar to others in most personality dimensions, including autonomy, generosity, and cooperativeness
  • marry around the same age as others and are no more likely than others to divorce
  • have similar levels of psychological adjustment to others

There are distinct differences that have been found. Only children:

  • tend to have higher achievement levels than others
  • are more likely to engage in recreation and play activities alone

There are a few things that parents with one child should consider, in order to foster their child’s optimal development. Ample opportunity should be given for developing friendships with other children, through play dates, attending school and after-school group activities. The child should also be allowed to develop age-appropriate independence. Only children may pressure themself to excel and their parents should ensure they do not place excessive expectations on their child and that they make clear that their love is unconditional. Finally, only children, like others, still need healthy boundaries, limits and discipline in order to thrive.

In a study of parents’ happiness, mothers tend to be less happy, the more children they have, while fathers experienced no significant change in happiness after their first child. With the only child receiving a lot of parental attention, affection, acceptance, and approval, is it that the rest of us are simply jealous? Even if we are, the end result for them and for us is about the same.

Read More: The Only Child: Debunking the Myths
10 Tips for Parenting Only Children
The Adolescent Only Child

Image: jscreationzs /


About Traci S. Williams-Nurse

Dr. Traci Williams-Nurse is a licensed psychologist who specialized in child, adolescent and family psychology. Her interests include child development, family functioning, video games and food. She was born and raised in Trinidad & Tobago and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
This entry was posted in Adoption, Parenting, Social Skills. Bookmark the permalink.

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