Feb 062008

Only Child Stereotypes and the real truth

The notion of an only child, the indulgence he supposedly enjoys, the loneliness he reportedly experiences, and the narcissistic approach to life he assumedly displays, is all so entrenched in the common psyche that it will take time and convincing to view these ‘accepted truths’ as myths.

It is largely believed that the only child who displays some or all of the above mentioned characteristics has acquired it due to parental attitudes of lavishing excessive attention and also due to the lack of a sibling. It is common belief that doting parents on the one side and absence of a rivaling sibling on the other leaves the only child overly indulged and spoiled. Are these perceptions true or are they mere myths? Five of the most popular myths surrounding the only child are:

Myth #1: An only child is very lonely

This is one of the toughest myths to explode. Most parents of only children are haunted by the fear that they are allowing the only child to grow up ‘alone’ and are leaving him to tackle the world alone without a companion from the ‘family’ to fall back upon.


Only children are comfortable being alone and are able to keep themselves engaged without being too dependant on playmates or friends. Being alone is not the same as being lonely. Also, a presence of a sibling does not guarantee continual happiness and company for life for your child.

Myth #2: An only child is spoiled

This is everyone’s favorite stereotype which they love to play again and again. Psychologists use the term “dethronement” to describe the status of an erstwhile only child who has recently acquired a sibling. The child who till then was the center of his parent’s world, who was cynosure of all eyes, who enjoyed the ‘royal’ treatment, gets ‘dethroned’ the moment another child comes into the picture.

Sooner or later the child comes to terms with the reality of having to share and compromise with the sibling and carry on with life in a non-fussy and sportive manner. On the other hand, an only child never gets dethroned and continually enjoys the undivided attention of his parents, giving rise to the myth that hence he must be thoroughly spoiled.


While it is true that an only child enjoys unrivaled attention from his parents, it is however a false notion that such attention would leave him spoiled . The extent of a child’s good or bad behavior is dependent on the kind of nurturing he receives and the limits set by the parents for him. It is entirely within the parents’ control and ability to bring up a well behaved only child by offering him affection and attention that is balanced and nourishing rather than being lopsided and overwhelming.

Myth #3: An only child is selfish

An only child must but be selfish. After all what does he know about sharing and caring? Hasn’t he grown alone and wouldn’t his parents have spoiled him with their lavish attention? This is yet another popular myth.


All young children are selfish and possessive about their toys and playthings. Again, in their adolescent years, while hormones change and cause physical and mental changes, children may display an aggressive attitude that could be misconstrued as selfishness.
Selfishness is not a trait exclusive to only children. Children with siblings can also be selfish. Truth is, parents can foster the habit of sharing by monitoring how their only child shares his playthings with his friends and playmates.

One does not need a sibling to know how to share and care. A mother of an only child reports to have inculcated the habit of sharing in her daughter by daily offering a portion of food from her own plate to the child. And while doing so, the mother reinforced the fact that she was only sharing her food and not giving it all away. This practice allowed the child a glimpse into the act of sharing without having to be deprived of one’s rightful share.

There are other factors that also come into play. Consider this: Unlike in the multi-child family, the only child does not have to fight for toys, space and attention. He is more willing to share because: 1) he hasn’t had to fight for the things that are shared, and 2) he feels secure in sharing because he know it is all his in the end- to him, sharing does not mean giving away.

Myth #4: An only child is not sociable

Many believe that having grown up alone, an only child is maladjusted, unhappy and reluctant to mix with people as readily as other children. People assume that only children prefer to be alone, and prefer solitary and non-competitive amusements over interactive engagements. It is assumed that the unsociable only child will grow up to be an unsociable and aloof adult.


Growing up alone is not the same as being lonely. In most multi-child families, sibling rivalry is common. This does not automatically mean that children coming out of these families grow up to be bitter, mean and unfriendly adults. Similarly, an only child will not automatically turn into an unsociable and aloof adult. On the contrary, parents of an only child find more time to engage their child in a variety of activities where he will get to socialize and make friends. Since this parenting time need not be shared with other kids, onlies have the added advantage of having an activity-filled childhood.

Myth #5: An only child is dependant

Only children are very tied to their parents emotionally. They also get waited upon, which makes them very dependant in their later years. Now, is this myth or fact?


A child growing up to be independent or dependant is directly connected with the freedom and boundaries set by his parents. A parent with continual attention can bring up a clingy and dependant child, while an aware parent can inject confidence and courage into a child by allowing him small freedoms to make him independent. This has no correlation with having a sibling in the family but rather has a direct relationship with the parental decision to bring up a child who is confident and independent.Small tasks around the house, tiny errands across the street, occasional sleepovers and camping out can foster independence in the minds of growing children, irrespective of whether they are single or with siblings.

Consider this: Only children do not have siblings to help them out at school or even at home when they get into trouble. They start learning to be independent in many areas of their life. This coupled with the close parenting typically received, onlies often tend to live independent lives, and they even relish that lifestyle. They value their time-alone, and doing things by themselves, and do not confuse it with being lonely. Parents can be very helpful when they understand this, recognize it, and nurture the multi-faceted characteristics of onlies.



 Posted by at 7:36 am

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