Parents of singletons often worry that without siblings, their child might have problems sharing and making friends — and hence, will be lonely. This stereotype of the only child as lonely child has long been without merit. In this day and age, with children’s early socialization in daycare, playgroups, in school and involved in endless after school activities, I believe parents should worry less than ever before, if at all.
The Wall Street Journal reported that some concerned parents of only children compensate for the lack of siblings by forming only-child groups. At weekly meetings, their children play, share, and, in essence, contend with pseudo sibling-rivalry situations. Through encouraged successful social interaction, they can settle disputes, compromise, and understand that they are not the center of the universe.
Technology — The Great Unifier
With so many children today embracing all-things electronic (gadgets like iPads, iPhones and computers), more than ever before, today’s advanced technologies allow only children to be connected to other children in huge ways — at times, even seeming to take over family life. Yet, it is undeniable that this connection can give singletons a social life that extends beyond school hours and after school activities, for years beyond the age of aforementioned only-child social groups. Technology is the preferred method of communication in grade, middle, and high school. Your child can—and probably will—”talk” to friends constantly through social-networking sites, texts, and e-mail. Some experts in the field worry that this lack of face-to-face contact will inhibit social and emotional development-but that concern applies to children with or without siblings.
For only children, friends are a mere instant message, call, or click away. Even if your only child had a younger sibling, it is a good bet that he would spend much of his time engaged in some sort of electronic “conversation” with his friends, not with a brother or sister.
Only Children as Adults
No matter whether your family chooses to embrace technology, tried and true play dates or afterschool group activities, it’s important to realize that, ultimately, your singleton will form friendships in much the same way children with brothers and sisters do.
Heidi Riggio, assistant psychology professor at California State University, Los Angeles, tried to put an end to some of the only child misconceptions and negativism in her work on the importance of family structure for personality development. In her study “Personality and Social Skill Differences Between Adults With and Without Siblings,” reported in The Journal of Psychology, she looked at core personality traits and social skills including the ability to express feelings, to interpret verbal and nonverbal communication of others, and to control emotions and social sensitivity, among other traits generally thought to benefit children who have siblings. Riggio explained to me that the common thinking is only children “may experience social-skill deficits because of a lack of sibling relationships during key developmental periods.”
Like Douglas Downey at Ohio State University, who studied adolescents and discovered siblings are “good for nothing,” Riggio found that adult only children are quite the opposite of the lonely stereotype: They did not differ in social skills from those children with siblings. In fact, the two groups were “remarkably” similar. In other words, singletons turn out as socially competent as children with siblings-they make friends as easily as their peers with siblings. Most are anything but lonely.