Only Child Syndrome? The Fun and Challenges of Raising an Only Child

After we had our daughter, we were always asked, “When are you having children?” Heck, some people even asked me that when I was pregnant. We are constantly bombarded with what I can only hope is good advice to have another child so that we don’t burden our existing daughter with loneliness or traits associated with being an only child, such as selfishness, being the boss, or being spoiled.

Let’s park the commentary about people who mind their business about other people’s family planning. But it is interesting to explore why people are so strange about only children and so affected by this idea of ​​”only child syndrome.” It’s a widespread theory that only children are at some disadvantage because their parents can’t or won’t give them a sibling, and it can put an enormous amount of pressure on couples and families who may not. ready for, may have, or even want more than one child. So, is there any truth to this theory? New research tells us probably not.

History of Attitudes Around Having a Solo Child

In the 1800s, psychologists examined children and concluded that only children tended to develop undesirable and unique personality traits.1 Their research and concept of the only child syndrome continues to be quoted in wider society despite being found to be incorrect and rejected in research and academia. Although only children have different experiences than siblings, because they do not have to compete for parents’ attention or financial resources, research suggests that this does not always influence personality.1 More recent research has determined that personality development is more rooted and less influenced by birth order or family size than we think because genetics, life events, and family stressors and environments around children is a better way of predicting their personalities.2

Concerns or Concerns About Having an Only Child

Many major concerns relate to only children, including only children being selfish. However, new research tells us that altruism (being selfless and concerned about the welfare of others) is not particularly different between only children or those with siblings.3 Another concern is their social skills and whether only children are lonely. Well, that depends on what else is going on within the context of a particular family. Although only children miss out on socializing with siblings and have less exposure to learning how to compromise than their peers who have siblings, that doesn’t mean they can’t develop those skills.2 However, we may need to support only children in a different way to provide them with the same social opportunities as children with a built-in social network within the family home.

Parenting Tips for Raising an Only Child

If you have an only child or plan to have an only child, you may be curious about the challenges and rewards of having just one little one. Here are some tips to encourage and support your only child’s development.

Teach Them Social Skills

People are interested in how to help an only child not feel lonely. Even if they don’t play at home, parents and families can still intentionally create opportunities for socializing. This may include:

  • Planning playdates: You don’t need to stress too much about the frequency of playdates before the age of about 18 months to 2 years, because children still play with their peers rather than their peers. However, as they enter the toddler years, regular playdates are a great form of socialization practice.4
  • Socializing in different places: Have playdates at your place, at someone else’s house, or at neutral places like parks or play centers. In this way, children learn how to navigate social situations in different settings with different rules and expectations.
  • Joining a playgroup or baby class: Find some local classes or free local meetups for parents. Not only is it good to meet other parents of the same age, but it also gives your child a chance to socialize.

Teach Them to Share and Compromise

If you’re worried about your only child learning to share and compromise, don’t worry; they don’t need a sibling to learn this skill. Some strategies to support them in learning the art of give and take, as well as negotiation, may include:

  • Arrange playdates: Encouraging and planning playdates and socializing opportunities can help, but you are the most important influence on your child, so remember that sharing and compromising starts at home.
  • Practice: Show your child how to share and compromise. For example, you might have conversations like, “I’ll share a bite of my cookie if you share your bite with me,” or “You want a turn with this toy after I play, so let’s put a timer for one minute, and we can change toys.”
  • Modeling: Let them see you sharing and compromising with others when you interact with extended family, friends, or people in your local community.

Enrich Their Freedom

If all your attention is on one child, you can do things for them more often. When there are many children, parents cannot take care of them 100% of the time because sometimes they have to share or prioritize care. So, it’s important to encourage independence by implementing some of these strategies:

  • Don’t rush to fix things for them: It’s tempting to jump in and help our little ones when they’re in trouble, but when we do, we unwittingly deprive them of the opportunity to learn how to do things for themselves.
  • Give them options: Every family will be different in what choices they feel comfortable letting their child make, and this will also change as children grow. But consider things like letting them pick out their clothes, help with grocery shopping or meal planning, pick out a movie for family movie night, etc.
  • Let them have some responsibility: Whether it’s getting a pet or delegating chores, giving your little one something to be responsible for is important. This is because they don’t depend on you to do everything for them, and they need to learn about give and take as well as consider the needs of others.

Setting Expectations for an Only Child

There may be more expectations placed on children, in part because they may spend more time with adults and may go home early (or advanced). Another reason is that if a parent has ideas about what they want their child to be like or how they envision family life or parenting, they can pin all their hopes (and pressure) on a child. Some strategies to help keep expectations appropriate and realistic are:

  • Make sure you don’t expect perfection: For example, even if they have a good vocabulary, it does not mean that their emotions or ability to manage their feelings is at the same level as an adult. So be patient, and make sure they know it’s okay to make mistakes or have big feelings.
  • Take some pressure off: With only one child, you might inadvertently put pressure on them. For example, say you love a certain sport and want your child to follow in your footsteps. If you have several children, chances are, at least one of them may like the same sport. But with an only child, it can be difficult to set back expectations or force them to “be” a certain way or live up to what you expect or expect of a child. Be sure to check your own “thing” or expectations.

How an Only Child Can’t Be Hurt

It’s very easy to break even with an only child because they don’t have to share a sibling, and you don’t have to split the finances between more than one child. So, here are some strategies to make sure your child is aware of other people around them.

Expand their Circle of Concern

Read stories about different cultures or ways of life so your child can think outside of their own ideas and understand that there are other perspectives. You can also learn about holidays or ceremonies from other cultures or eat foods from different countries to help them learn about other ways of life.

Donate or Share

Not everyone is in a position to do this, but consider donating to community fundraisers and charities or even donating your old items when doing a clean-out or spring clean. You can include your child in these activities and engage them in conversations about giving and helping others who are less fortunate. This will lead them to think about others and help increase their empathy.

Don’t Overdo It With Gifts

Instead of material things, perhaps you can focus on gift-giving experiences (like annual passes to the local zoo or a special outing to a theme park together). Doing things together creates lasting memories and ensures that your child doesn’t have too much “stuff” because of being an only child.

There are many misconceptions about the challenges of being an only child. But try not to buy into the hype. There is research that says there are some challenges and great benefits of being an only child. But isn’t it the same with children who have many siblings? When you avoid getting caught up in what others say about having (or being) an only child, you can turn your attention to your child. As with all children – those with no siblings or five siblings – the goal is to love them, see them as individuals, support them, and enjoy time with them as they grow into wonderful little people.

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