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Only Child Syndrome Myths

Only Child Syndrome Myths

Only children sometimes get a bad rap. As an only child myself, I know a thing or two about this. For most of my life, I was the only, only child on either my mom or dad’s side of the family. The only other Only I knew of was my great-grandmother Ida, who, by the way, gave birth to 16 children. Uh, yeah… that’s not happening.

This childhood status did not win me many points among my first cousins, who undoubtedly loved me, but also took advantage of one of the more notorious traits of only children – extreme sensitivity. (I cried at the drop of a dime.) Now a mother to an only child (who has begun to express the desire for a sibling), I’m on the lookout for only child stereotyping.

To that end, I thought I would take a moment to put some of the more negative stereotypes to rest (you know, for my daughter’s sake, not mine.)

SPOILED

I can’t tell you how many times I had this accusation hurled at me as a kid, and even as a young adult. Picture this: I’m in my twenties, on a first date with a guy and he asks if I have any brothers or sisters. I say “No.” He says, “Oh, well I know you must be / must have been spoiled.” (Ok, so at this stage in my life, my witty comebacks had already crystallized.) So I say, “Yeah, well that’s true. So, pony up buddy. This is about to be one expensive date!”


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Ok, seriously, I’ve often wondered why the only children have to carry the burden of the unfortunate “spoiled brat” misnomer. I mean, come on who does the actual spoiling? It’s the parents, right? So why punish those who are merely the defenseless recipients of all their parents’ time, attention and disposable income?

How we feel about Only Child stereotypes!
How we feel about Only Child stereotypes!

BOSSY

Ok, so this one is clearly linked to the idea that only children often get their way, and with no competition from a sibling, they tend to run the show. And yes, some can be bossy. But let’s look at another way: they’re usually primed to be leaders with a healthy dose of self-esteem. And some of that “bossiness” might be attributed to spending lots of time around adults. In fact, that’s another only child designation – that they often act like “little adults.” Truth: I did sort of ban the baby talk with Gabby, but I think she’s turned out to be a well-spoken 8 going on 38 year-old.

POOR SOCIAL SKILLS

I have to admit that I get where this one comes from. Only children usually spend a lot of time by themselves, but in most cases they’re not excommunicated from the rest of society. My daughter, like me, is very good at entertaining herself. But she also happens to be a bit of an extrovert, so making friends is usually no problem for her. Perhaps it takes a while for my fellow Introverted Only children to warm up to people, but I don’t think only children are inherently socially inept. They just need to be… well, around other kids. And I found at least one study that says a lack of siblings has no real impact on social skills during the teenage years. I do, however, think it’s important to stress to an only child the importance of sharing from an early age.

Sweet Only Taralyn

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OVERLY SENSITIVE

I’ve already owned up to this one, and God bless my baby girl because she’s just about as sensitive as they come. But you know what else? She is also the most compassionate child I’ve ever seen. (In fact, she articulates her feelings so well, there’s a good chance she may not even need therapy when she grows up!) Granted, that compassion isn’t solely the result of being an only child, but I think she’s more aware of other people’s feelings because she’s so in tuned to her own. And it’s my job as her mom to help her deal with hurt feelings and disappointment without having a full-fledged meltdown.

So, I hope I’ve helped to dispel some of the myths about only children or at least offer some alternatives from the guy who once described being an only child as a “disease in itself.” But you know, I don’t have any unresolved issues about that or anything…

Do you have any “Only” myths to add to my list? Let me know in the comments.


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View Comments (20)
  • Thank you for the positive article about only children. I have tried desperately to have a sibling for mine but to no avail. Trying to get myself over the stereotypes I have has been a huge challenge for me. Our society does a great disservice to only children with the attitudes we perpetuate.

    • Hi Jennifer, I agree wholeheartedly! And of course, as an only child, myself I was acutely aware of this and wanted to make sure that my daughter didn’t succumb to any negative only child labels. Something I’ve noticed pretty recently, though, is that only children seem to “find” each other and find comfort in their kinship. Keep challenging those myths for your wonderful Only!

  • All the way from New Zealand -thank you for a great article 🙂

    We just love our girl , a nicer and more compassionate lass you will not meet. (apart from yours it seems ) 😀
    Sounds like our girls would make great pals.
    She dispels ALL of the only child myths !
    Everyone tells us what an awesome kids she is – she certainly is !

    M x

    • Well hello there, Kiwi! Thanks for the love! I agree. I think our girls would hit it off nicely. By the way, New Zealand has just jumped to the top of our list of dream destinations!

  • Thanks for the article. I also was an only child and as a woman way over 40 I still get the “ohhhh so you’re used to having your way” comments, when someone finds out I am an only child. Actually no that was not the case but I also shouldn’t be condemned because as you said, my parents only had me to concentrate on.

    • Hi Gina! So sorry I missed your comment earlier, but I’m with you all the way! I think our culture has an incessant need to label one another. God forbid we just get to know each other! Lol

  • Thanks for this article. I just found out today its medically unsafe for me to have another child. So I was researching only children gearing up for that situation for my daughter and found your encouraging article. Thanks for sharing!
    Jess

    • Hi Jess! Thanks for your comment. And let me just say that I’m sorry to hear about your medical situation. I truly understand how you must feel. But I’m so glad that my post was helpful. I just keep reminding myself of how blessed I am to have the one I’ve got and I do my best to never take her for granted. I’ll bet you feel the same way. 🙂

  • Taralyn! I love this article! I am so happy to see you writing to dismantle the social stereotypes of our world, one incredible article after another! You go girl!

  • Thank you for this wonderful post. I often wonder about my only child and how she will grow to feel having no siblings. This post make me feel she will grow up to be a productive, level headed adult.

    • Hi Crystal! I’m really glad to hear that this post was helpful. I’ve realized lately that one of the things I have to be mindful about is imposing my feelings on my daughter. I really sympathized with her, of course, because I’m an only child, too. But I don’t want my experience to necessarily be hers. And yes, I think she’d still like to have a sibling, but we try to focus on our abundance rather than our lack. And I know that your child’s innate self-reliance will serve him or her well throughout their lifetime. It’s worked out pretty well for me. 😉

  • Thank you for setting it straight! I am a 40 year old only child and need to add to your point dispelling the spoiled myth: an only child is just as vulnerable to abuse, trauma, and hardship as a child with siblings!

  • Thanks for the article. I was googling “only child” and this came up. My husband decided we’re done after our boy was born. I didn’t agree to this at all. He is now 2 and i worry about him playing alone. Did u always play with your daughter every night? How about when u are doing chores around the house, how do u keep her busy? And this is what worries me the most: when he moves out to college, what if he never visits me? I will have no other kids to keep me company. Sorry I know I worry a lot, I just want an “Only” point of view. Thanks!

    • Hi Christina! I honestly believe your son will be just fine. I think at 2, he’s not really concerned or even aware of his only child status. I would suggest just looking for opportunities in your community for him to play with other children. Maybe your local library has a children’s story time where he could connect with some potential playmates. Or some mom and me type classes. I don’t know if my daughter and I played together every single night, but I discovered that the simplest of things could keep her engaged. I got so many electronic toys as gifts (LeapPads, etc.), but Gab would have just as soon had a cardboard box to play in at that age. But I did also keep her entertained sometimes with Sesame Street DVDs. Nice big picture books and soft blocks work well, too. And as she got a little older, I’d let her “help” with some of the chores. It made her feel like a big girl. There will be an adjustment period as he goes off to college, but a college kid’s reluctance to come home is part of the novelty of their experience, where they’re an only child or not. But he will visit, trust me. And maybe you won’t have any kids in your house on a day to day basis, but think of all the things you’ll have time to explore. Plus, it’s been my experience that there are always kids who need to be cared for, so consider volunteering with a youth program or mentoring a child. Hang in there! It may not get “easier,” but you will get better at handling the situation. 🙂

  • Just read all the comments after coming across your blog and thanks for your positivity and insight ! I’m a parent of an only 3 yo boy who is awesome ! My step mom was an only and is suggesting more siblings would be better since she had a rough time as an only child. She’s visiting and my little guy had been acting out as all 3 yrs old kids do and she’s telling me that things would be soo much easier if we just had another kid for him to play with . It’s hard to not feel guilty for deciding to just have one. They will be alone and spoiled and have to deal with their parents all on their own later in life etc.. My husband only wants one and I do too but it’s hard not to feel guilty about it. With all the pressure out their from “onlys” who say they really felt something missing .

    • Hi Tis! Thanks for your comment. I understand feeling guilty about not having another child. I sometimes feel that way myself, especially being an only child. What I try to focus on, instead, is providing my daughter with plenty of opportunities to socialize and connect with other kids. I’m actually trying to encourage her now to consider trying a team sport. I think a lot of the “life lessons” children with siblings often learn, like how to work together, play fair, share. etc. can also be acquired by playing on a team. And hey, if you and you husband both agree, maybe being a foster parent is an option. Or when your son is a little older, perhaps mentoring a child through Big Brothers, Big Sisters would allow him to have a regular playmate as well as provide a loving connection for a child in need. There are definitely still times as an adult when I wish I’d had a brother or sister, but I have to remind myself that I’ve acquired some really good friends over the years with whom I share just as strong a connection as I might with a sibling. I’m sure your son will find some friends like that of his own. 🙂

  • I’m taking a Lifespan Psychology class and have been reading up on child personalities! Came across your blog because I am an only-child. Thank you for writing this, I hope others will stumble upon it and realize that not all only-children are spoiled brats 🙂 I’ve often received a surprised “You don’t act like an only child!” whenever others find out I have no siblings. Ha-ha!

    Seems like you have yourself a very sweet girl! Wish you both the best 🙂

    • Thanks, Christian! I’ve gotten that response a time or two myself. Hey, whatta you gonna do? 🙂 And I do indeed have a sweet little girl. Wouldn’t trade her for anything. Oh, if you learn any interesting child personality tidbits you’d like to share, let me know!

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