There can be potential disadvantages to growing up without siblings, but each child and family is different. Not all only children will have the same experiences or develop the same character traits. Back in 1907, the first president of the American Psychological Association described only children as "sickly, selfish, strange and stupid." Attitudes toward only children have certainly moved on since then. However, if you are the parent of an only child, or are an only child yourself, it may help to be aware of some possible disadvantages.
Pressure at Home
Parents of an only child only have one chance at being good parents. This can result in high-pressure parenting, says psychologist Carl E. Pickhardt in "The Future of Your Only Child." If parents are overly concerned about making mistakes, the child can pick up on this and feel pressure to always do the right thing and to not make mistakes. This can lead to a tense environment in which all family members put pressure on themselves to live up to their own high expectations. An only child may grow up to be susceptible to stress and have a controlling nature, says Pickhardt, due to his anxiety about making mistakes and his self-imposed pressure to meet high standards.
Difficulty Relating to Peers
An only child may find it more difficult to identify and fit in with other children. She may struggle to share with her peers due to the fact that she never had to share anything with siblings -- be it material possessions, time, space or parental attention. She may also be uncomfortable with some typical childhood behavior, such as rough play, because she has never experienced this at home.
More Adults Around
An only child is likely to spend more time with adults than other children because he has no siblings at home. This may lead to a stronger identification with adults than children and more advanced development than his peers, suggests Lauren Sandler in her "New York Times" article "Only Children: Lonely and Selfish?" Studies have found that only children have higher self-esteem than children who have siblings, notes Sandler. This maturity, confidence and intelligence, however, may sometimes come across as cockiness or cheekiness to some people. Also, only children may have a more emotionally intense childhood because their parents do not have to divide their time or attention between multiple children. The undivided attention can be hugely rewarding, but it can also lead to a feeling of suffocation, says Sandler, who noted that many of the adult only children she interviewed for her book “One and Only" said that they struggled to cope with the intensity.
Not All Bad
Being an only child has its advantages. Only children may be highly motivated, have high self-esteem and benefit from close relationships with their parents.
- The New York Times: Only Children -- Lonely and Selfish?
- NPR: 'One And Only' -- The Joys and Myths of Raising Just One
- The Future of Your Only Child: How to Guide Your Child to a Happy and Successful Life; Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D.
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