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Parenting an Only

The Scoop on Stereotypes and Socialization

This month, Susan Brown tackles two questions on the same topic. As the mother of an only child, she knows the territory well.

Q: My husband and I made a decision to have one child and we are happy with that decision. The rest of the world seems to think we couldn’t have more children or that we are denying our child by not giving her siblings. What’s your take on this topic?

And this one…

Q: Sometimes I worry that our 6-year-old son and only child isn’t social enough or that there might be something we should be doing differently. Do you have any special recommendations for parents of only children?

A: Stereotypes concerning only children are never in short supply. Only children are often thought to be spoiled, petulant, unable to share, and lacking in social skills. Well-meaning but uninformed strangers and family are often more than happy to warn you of the pitfalls of raising a one and only. But, when we look at the welldocumented research on only children, we see a very different picture. Only children are overall well-adjusted and happy. They tend to excel academically and are often found in the top 10 percent of their graduating class. Generally, only children are over-represented in top management positions and rise to the top in whatever they take on. Interestingly, only children are under-represented in politics as well as professional sports. Onlys tend to enjoy close, warm, and loving relationships with their parents. They are also known to divorce in fewer numbers than their peers with siblings. Only children often have opportunities to travel, attend private schools, or participate in specialized camps and extra-curricular activities that parents could not provide if they had had more than one child.

There are possible pitfalls to raising an only child as well. While these children tend to feel very comfortable with adults, they may find it a bit more challenging to learn the social skills needed to make friends. Only children need opportunities to socialize with others their age. Preschool, playdates, and opportunities to hang out with the kids in the neighborhood are absolutely key. Social skills require practice, practice, and more practice. In time and with opportunity, most only children behave the same as their peers with siblings when it comes to navigating the social scene.

The other concern, and I know this from experience, is the intensity that is often built into the relationship between only children and their parents. When two adults pour all their hopes and dreams, and commit all their parenting energy to one small child, they can create a heavy load for the child to carry. Parents of onlys need to learn to chill a bit and to keep a sense of humor while remembering that their child’s accomplishments or failures are not a reflection of them, but rather are wholly owned by the child. Clear boundaries are extremely important in these relationships so that we don’t rob an only child of a sense of autonomy and independence.

Take it from the mother of a happy, well functioning, and productive only son!

Susan Brown holds a master’s degree in developmental psychology, as well as degrees in early childhood education and psychology. A mother, teacher, children’s book author, and nationally known family educator, she works with clients at Everyday Parenting Solutions.
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