More families worldwide are choosing to have one child. However, unfair attitudes still abound. Even though I, and others, have spent decades shedding light on only child discrimination and stereotypes, we continue to see and hear baseless only child bashing.
Recently, I spotted advice offered in a daily newspaper’s parenting Q & A section. It is disturbing, but unfortunately, it reflects not uncommon thinking. The implications are obvious … and wrong:
- The Question: “My nine-year-old son is always “ready to run” — so he keeps me and my husband running as well! He can act so impulsively that I don’t know where he is from one moment to the next. He also has a need to be continually recognized, to the extent that I sometimes think he would have been better off as an only child. Do you have any general ideas that can help us work better with him?”
- The Response: “Certain children seem to experience excitement when breaking the rules and find enjoyment in continually changing the structure of the daily schedule that you are attempting to create…In real life, however, such impulsive behavior is generally not tolerated. In fact, it is a blessing that your son is not an only child! Getting along with and accommodating others is best learned by growing up with all types of siblings, and this life experience will only help your son.”
The “expert” response implies a troubling “fact” — that having siblings is “best” for acquiring social skills. Then, there’s this comment: “In fact, it is a blessing that your son is not an only child!” What?
The interaction made me angry. It also made me, as usual, protective of only children. Plenty of studies find that children don’t necessarily need siblings to learn how to socialize. Siblings are not essential for learning to get along with or accommodate the needs of others.
Will only child bashing ever stop?
Dating back as the early as 1980s, research reported by the Guttmacher Institute reflects the absurdity of the misconceptions about only children — “Negative Stereotypes about Only Children Unfounded: They Do Well on Any Measure.”
Sociologist Judith Blake made several points about her findings:
- “There is no important positive feedback from having brothers and sisters to teach or learn from
- Only children typically surpass those from families with two or more children
- Singletons receive high educational and occupational status
- Only children have no obvious character or personality defects”
In the last 30-plus years many more studies refute the idea that it is best, better or even necessary for children to have brothers and sisters. When will everyone’s thinking catch up with science? There are mountains of research that say only children do quite fine without siblings.
Siblings aren’t automatically helpful
Brothers and sisters are not a panacea for any child’s behavioral issues. They do not necessarily provide a springboard for emotional and social growth. They’re also not a guarantee of an enriched childhood. I’ve written about the dark side of sibling relationships. Turns out, negative sibling relations are not so unusual.
In response to one of my articles about siblings, a woman wrote:
- “Only Child–You are Lucky! Would have loved to belong to a peaceful, loving home or at least a home where siblings aren’t allowed to hit or demean each other.”
To equating being an only child with a sense of loss or lacking simply doesn’t hold up. When it comes to the kinds of behavioral issues raised in the newspaper Q & A, the reality is that parental guidance — not the number of siblings one does or doesn’t have — is the best teacher.