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Raising an Only Child: Are the Stereotypes True?

The number of couples who are having only one child is steadily increasing for various reasons, including finances and more couples marrying later in life, and this number is expected to continue increasing (Mancillas, 2006). Because of this, and because I have conducted research on only children, I often get asked questions about raising a child without siblings. Most questions revolve around the well-known stereotypes about only children: Will they grow up to be spoiled? Will they grow up to be socially awkward? Will they refuse to share? Will they feel lonely? I may be a little bias when I say no (I’m an onlie myself), but the research continues to show that, overall, growing up without siblings does not cause a child to be significantly different than their peers in most areas (Falbo, 2012).

One area that has sometimes been found to differ between only children and their peers with siblings is their ability to effectively navigate conflict management (Kitzmann, Cohen, & Lockwood, 2002). But there’s good news-there are various things you can do as a parent to nurture development in this area that your child may lack due to not having built in peers in the home to practice these skills with. Below are some tips to help both with the development of conflict management skills, as well as a couple more general ideas that may be helpful as you parent your only child:

1. Create opportunities for your child to interact with their peers.

Make sure your child has opportunities to interact and practice social skills with peers. Sign them up for activities where they are encouraged to work with children their own age toward a common goal, such as a sports team, extracurricular activity, social skills group, or after-school program. If they have other family members who are around their age, such as cousins, create opportunities for your child to build strong relationships with them too, if possible.

2. Model healthy communication.

Because only children often spend a lot of individual time with their parent/parents, it is important that you model healthy communication for your child. Since only children do not get the chance to practice communication with siblings, help them learn those skills with you. This can be done both in how you engage with them, as well as how you engage with your partner/spouse or any other important adults in your life.

3. Allow them to talk about what it is like to not have siblings.

Only children can sometimes go through stages where they feel different because they do not have a sibling like many of their friends. If they come to you with questions or concerns about this, allow them to talk about their feelings and experiences with you. It is important to emphasize to them that being an only child does not have to be a negative, but makes them unique, and emphasize the many positives that can come with being an only child, such as getting to spend one-on-one time with you.

4. Nurture their strengths and talents.

Just as a parent who has more than one child would do, encourage your child and nurture the things they are good at and that make them unique. This is one of the best things any parent can do for their child to help build a strong self-esteem and sense of self, and that is no different for an only child.

References:

Falbo, T. (2012). Only Children: An Updated Review. The Journal of Individual

Psychology, 68(1), 38-49.

Kitzmann, K. M., Cohen, R., & Lockwood, R. L. (2002). Are only children missing out?

Comparison of the peer-related social competence of only children and

siblings. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19(3), 299-316.

Mancillas, A. (2006). Challenging the stereotypes about only children: A review of the

literature and implications for practice. Journal of Counseling & Development,

84(3), 268-275.

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