Are only children spoilt?


Child 1

Child 1 (Photo credit: Tony Trần)

An increasing number of families have only one child often out of choice. However, there are social pressures to have more children as the commonly held belief is that only children are lonely, spoilt and lacking in social skills. China’s one child policy has led to a generation of only children who have been dubbed ‘little emperors‘. On the other hand, research such as Falbo and Polit (1986) and Falbo and Poston (1993) have pointed to the beneficial effects of being an only child in terms of increased achievement and higher self-esteem. The research has also highlighted the negligible differences in personality between only children, first-borns and those from two-child families. Mellor (1990) found that only children scored significantly higher than children from larger families for trusting others, being independent, taking initiative, being responsible and productive and having a good self-image and high self-esteem. Oliva and Arranz (2005) found that only children did not differ from other children with regards to family relationships, peer relationships and psychological adjustment. However, there is some negative evidence about being an only child: Jiao et al. (1986) found that children with siblings were more persistent, cooperative and popular than only children. Internet accounts of being an only child suggest that it can be quite a negative experience but then such accounts can be biased as only certain types of people are likely to write their accounts on the internet or to look for support from internet forums. A recent survey ‘Understanding society’ (2009) found that the greater the number of younger siblings in the household, the less satisfaction with family life. It also found that sibling bullying is found in half of UK households. Being an only child comes with a number of benefits, such as better achievement, higher self-esteem and closer relationships with parents. The perception that only children are spoilt is simplistic. It does not take into account that being spoilt with attention is actually a good thing for young children in terms of their self-esteem. I have two friends who are only children and they are generous, kind and very unspoilt! They say that their parents gave them lots of attention but that they weren’t spoilt materially. So maybe parents of only children just need to make sure they don’t spoil their children with material items.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.


Why is a play-based approach in schools a good idea?


Sand Play Therapy/ Sandspieltherapie nach Dora...

Sand Play Therapy/ Sandspieltherapie nach Dora M. Kalff (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are sound educational reasons as to why a play-based approach is a good idea in the early years of school. Young children may switch off from learning if all activities are teacher-led and they have to sit and listen for long periods of time. Play also develops children’s thinking skills. Children learn to think through problems, rather than learning facts. Knowing facts is not that useful in new situations. On the other hand, teaching children to be able to think creatively about a problem, without worrying whether they are right or wrong is a valuable skill. Many schools now teach thinking skills in their lessons but young children learn this through play. Fisher (1992) analysed the results of a number of studies into children’s play and concluded that children who are engaged in more pretend play perform better on tests of cognitive, language and creativity development.

Many schools in America are now implementing a ‘Tools of the Mind’ curriculum, which places great emphasis on play. The curriculum promotes make-believe play and suggests that children should develop play plans. Children and teachers sit down together in advance of play and talk about what they want to role play. For example, the children might plan that they are going to go to the moon and what they will need to get there. The children decide in advance what roles they are going to play, with rules about how to act (the astronauts have to carry out certain tasks such as collecting samples from the moon).  The theory is that the play plans help children to think ahead and also to avoid conflict during the role play. Children are also encouraged to use symbolic props rather than real ones to develop their imagination, so for example, the children might use Lego or wooden blocks to represent the trains. Teachers encourage the children to say what they are doing during the play to develop language skills. Bodrova and Leong (2001) argue that play helps children to learn self-regulation so that they are better able to control their emotions and aggression. The ‘Tools of the Mind’ curriculum also encourages children to write on their play plans to help them develop their writing skills. Diamond (2007) found that children in ‘Tools’ classrooms had better self-regulation and achieved more on standardised tests than matched children in a traditional classroom.

Research also suggests that children need to have time for free play without constantly being involved in activities. Children can become anxious if they have too little time for free play. Barnett (1984) assessed children on their level of anxiety on their first day at nursery school. It was found that the children who were able to play freely had lower levels of anxiety than those who had to listen to stories. This supports the idea that play allows children to work through their conflicts and anxiety. Warren et al. (2000) found that the themes expressed in the play of 35 children aged 5 corresponded with the children’s anxiety at school and at home. Play was a way for the children to work through their worries. Another case, reported by Axline (1947) demonstrates the importance of play. At the age of 5 years old, a boy called Dibs was referred to Axline, a clinical psychologist specialising in play therapy for very disturbed behaviour. Dibs’ parents thought he might be brain damaged. Axline watched Dibs’ play carefully to look for emotional reasons for his disturbed behaviour. Dibs often played with dolls that represented his family and in one instance, he buried a doll representing his father in the sand. This was interpreted as hostility towards his father. Axline was able to uncover Dibs’ conflicts and problems through the therapy. Dibs’ relationship with his parents improved as did his behaviour at school. Dibs’ IQ was tested after the therapy and he scored in the top 1% of the population. By then he had no emotional difficulties.

I do think it is important to teach children to read, write and count at school at an early age, if they are willing. Research suggests that disadvantaged children can particularly benefit from learning literacy and numeracy at preschool. However, it must not be forgotten that children can learn through play. Perhaps the middle ground is for schools to adopt a ‘Tools of the Mind’ approach, which promotes more thoughtful, planned make-believe play alongside literacy, when children are young.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

Does smacking work?


English: Supernanny, Jo Frost(R), at the Child...

The current era of supernanny and naughty steps suggests that we should all be quite firm with our children. I have probably been quite soft with my 3 year old son up until now but I am gradually enforcing timeout combined with a system of rewards to change his behaviour for the better. So is the common sense view that being kind but firm, the best way for bringing up your child?

The other day, a friend said to me that she smacked her son for aggressive behaviour. Her son is 8 months older than mine and his aggressive behaviour has certainly diminished over the last year. In contrast, my son is still being quite aggressive towards other children. Although I wasn’t tempted to copy her behaviour, it did make me question whether I had the right strategy. So what does psychological research say about physical punishment?

Gershoff (2002 ) examined 88 studies conducted over the last 62 years looking at the effects of physical punishment on children. The 88 studies had looked at everything from aggression to mental health. They found that when parents physically punished their children, the children were more immediately compliant. However, the children displayed more aggressive and anti-social behaviour later on. They also had worse mental health and had an increased risk of being a perpetrator or victim of physical abuse. Another study found that children who had been physically punished by their parents were far more likely to be aggressive as adolescents (P. Cohen, Brook, Cohen, Velez, & Garcia, 1990).

Gershoff (2002) gives the example of a parent who spanks their child for running into the street. The parent intends the child to learn that such a behaviour is dangerous, yet the child may only learn that he or she should not run into the street when the parent is around. Furthermore, the child may experience anger, fear and distress from being smacked and this may prevent the child from attending to or understanding the parent’s message.

So the next time, someone suggests to me that smacking my child might work as a discipline strategy. I can feel more confident that it isn’t. What’s your opinion?

My book  ‘Psychology for Parents: Birth to teens’ is on sale as an e-book on Amazon and


What about a mother’s needs?


Mother and Child watching each other

What about a mother’s needs?

Knowing so much child psychology, makes me aware of how important the early years of my son’s life are. Even the way a baby’s brain develops is affected by the emotional bond between a parent and their child. Chugani et al. (2001) used brain scans to study Romanian adoptees who had been left in their cots without love or stimulation for an average of 38 months before being adopted. He found that the adoptees showed significantly reduced brain activation compared to controls in the parts of the brain associated with emotion. This type of research makes me aware of how the interactions I have with my son, will affect him long-term. Studies suggest that the more responsive a parent is to their child, the more likely a secure emotional attachment will be formed and the more easily a child will learn to understand and regulate their own emotions. Fortunately, I have found it easy to bond with my son and to put his needs first. However, my mum said to me the other day that I need to remember my own needs and that I should try and find a balance. I know that she is right for a number of reasons. Sometimes, I will completely forget to make myself a cup of coffee until two hours later because my son is demanding my attention. I will often not be able to get dressed until half-way through the morning because my son wants my attention. I sometimes put off seeing my own friends because I know it will be difficult with my son. So how do you strike a balance? How do you meet your needs? Perhaps I need to remember what Winnicott (1953) said “The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure”. My son is now 3 years old, so perhaps he is more able to tolerate being frustrated.

But how can a mother of a newborn baby meet her needs? It is hard for some new mothers to make the adjustment to looking after a baby. They may miss the social interaction of the workplace and the stimulation. At the same time, they may feel that their career has been stalled and that motherhood is undervalued. I think that avoiding isolation and building a network of friends is crucial to enjoying motherhood. Fortunately, throughout my experience of being a mother, I have had a strong network of other mothers to share my experiences with. In fact, I am the person who organises this group. It is relatively easy, I email a rota around and people only get back to me if they can’t host. As there are twelve mothers in my group, there are always a few people at every meeting. Now the children are older, the meetings revolve around the different days that people work. Although I enjoyed becoming a new mother, I did seek stimulation outside of the home and kept myself busy with baby groups and coffee groups etc. This was a form of sanity or me as I didn’t have family close by to share childcare with. After 3 years, I have adjusted to the slower pace of life when I am at home and I enjoy not rushing around as much. I make cakes with my son and do craft activities, things I never imagined doing as my own mother was not into these things. I am also back at work part-time as a teacher (11 hours a week) so perhaps I have the best of both worlds. However, I have had to accept a step-down in my career and on occasion, it still grates but I believe that this compensated for by having more time with my son. Each mother has to work out how they will balance their needs with their child’s needs and this may lead to a mother staying at-home, working part-time or working full-time. I know that not everyone is lucky enough to have a choice about going back to work or how many hours they do. Monetary reasons step in to make decisions for people. However, if you did have a choice about how many hours to do, what would be ideal? According to Belsky and Rovine, more than 20 hours of childcare per week for a child under the age of 1 year old is associated with insecure attachments. A US study of more than 17,000 children found that there is a relationship between number of hours in non-parental care and behaviour (Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Ritter & Turner, 2003). However, many mothers find caring for a baby or toddler tiring and stressful. They may not want to stay at home looking after their child. Obviously, if a mother is very stressed and unhappy this will affect the baby and in such situations it would be better for the mother to return to work. Brown and Harris (1978) found that women who don’t work and have several young children to care for are more likely to be depressed. There is no sense in a mother staying at home if she is depressed and unhappy. The child is more likely to become securely attached if the mother is happy but around less. Ultimately, it is hard for a mother to meet her child’s needs and at the same time meet her own needs but a mother must be happy for her child to be happy.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

Is sending your child to preschool full-time a good idea?

February 20, 2012


Day 193 - Preschool

Day 193 – Preschool (Photo credit: Karin Beil)

Recently, I decided to send my 3 year old son to preschool five days a week. Admittedly, these sessions are only three hours long but I have worried about whether it is a good idea or not. I feel particularly guilty about the one session I send him when I am at home rather than at work although having three hours to myself is amazing. My son seemed to be really happy going to preschool, until the week before half-term when for the first time he cried when I left him. I found out during half-term that two of the 4 year old boys at his preschool had told him he wasn’t allowed to play with a rocket and called him poo the previous week. I think this pretty common when children are that age but that doesn’t make it easier for my son. Fortunately, during half-term I had time to talk to him about how he can deal with the situation if it happens again. It does make me worry about how vulnerable he is at 3 years old though and whether he is ready to deal with playground name-calling. So what does research have to say about preschool?

The Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) project investigated the effects of preschool education and care on children’s development for children aged 3-7 years old. They used 3,000 children and followed them from 3 years old until 7 years old. They found that individual pre-schools varied in their ‘effectiveness’ for influencing a child’s development. The quality of the provision in the preschool was a very important factor. Children made more progress in pre-schools with highly qualified and experienced staff. Preschools were also more effective if they had clear discipline strategies where the staff talked through conflicts and poor behaviour with the children. Preschools were less effective when they did not follow up on children’s misbehaviour or just distracted children or told them to stop. The study also found that children who had attended good preschools had better social and intellectual development than children who had not even up to 7 years old (when the study ended). Whether children attended part-time or full-time did not seem to affect the children’s development. Perhaps I need to stop feeling guilty about sending my son to preschool full-time. Tomorrow my son is back to preschool but I have now spoken to them about keeping an eye out for any name-calling.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

Can you have a pain-free birth?

February 20, 2012


WBH Childbirth Fair stork

WBH Childbirth Fair stork (Photo credit: circulating)

Seeing my friend the other day with her new baby reminded me of my own experiences during childbirth. I had an amazing pain-free labour (yes-you can have one). So how was this possible? Well, I used a hypnosis technique called hypnobirthing, not beeause I am a hippy but because I chanced upon the technique.

I was in the early stages of pregnancy and celebrating my friend’s birthday at a restaurant when I got into a conversation with one of her friends about hypnobirthing. She was pregnant but hadn’t had her child yet and was advocating hypnobirthing. She told me that it was amazing but I was pretty sceptical as she hadn’t had the baby yet. I asked her to let me know how it went. After all, I wanted some form of proof that it worked before trying it out. Months later, her conversation played in my head as I got nearer and nearer to my due date. I had always been absolutely petrified of giving birth. So, I gave this woman a call to find out how her birth had gone. It sounded like the hypnobirthing had helped her despite a very difficult labour where she was induced. I decided to call up the woman she had used to find out about hypnobirthing, only to find out it was £250 for 4 sessions. This to me sounded ridiculously expensive so I thought I wouldn’t pursue it. Instead, I signed up for some NCT antenatal classes, thinking it was more important to have a good circle of friends once I had my child. However, at the last minute, the NCT classes were cancelled, which made me rethink the hypnobirthing sessions. In the end, I decided that I would pay the £250 and I really believe it was worth every penny and more. When my labour finally came, it was short and painless. I went into labour conveniently when my husband came home from work around 6pm, but the contractions were so mild that I ate my dinner (nothing stops me eating food). Around 10pm, the contractions were more frequent but I just used the breathing techniques I had been taught and I cannot say I felt any pain, more a tightness (although I did use a tens machine and balance ball throughout). I called the hospital at around 10.30, but they said stay at home longer. Finally, at midnight, I went to the hospital and arrived fully dilated ready to deliver my baby. The delivery although 2 hours long was pain-free apart from the moment when my son’s head crowned. At this moment I remember saying ‘that hurts’ but it wasn’t an intense pain.

Afterwards, I remember not only being overjoyed to have my son but also feeling amazing. I felt I had conquered my own fear about childbirth and that I was some kind of Amazonian woman. It was as if I had climbed Mount Everest. I believe that having the easy birth, made me more relaxed in those early months of my son’s life. He was also a very happy baby who did not cry much. I am now a firm advocate of hypnobirthing and so is one of my friends who tried it after me.

Previous research into hypnosis suggests that hypnobirthing may actually work, rather than being just a hippy idea. Hypnosis has been shown to reduce people’s perception of pain and anxiety. Furthermore, brain scans show that hypnosis can even change which parts of the brain are activated. However, some people are more hypnotisable than others. People who are prone to daydreaming or find it easy to switch off from their environment, are more easily hypnotisable. Maybe hypnobirthing worked with me because I am a daydreamer and I do find it easy to block out my surroundings. For example, much to my family’s annoyance, once I am engrossed in a book or TV programme it is hard to gain my attention. So to know whether hypnobirthing really works, more research in needed. This is exactly what the NHS are doing. Over 800 first-time mothers in Blackburn and Burnley are being given hypnobirthing classes to see whether it makes a difference. I am very interested to see what the conclusions are. At the end of the day, if mothers are calmer, their births should be shorter and they would need less drugs. This would not only save the NHS money but make new mothers happier.

My book  ‘Psychology for Parents: Birth to teens’ is on sale as an e-book on Amazon and

What makes us happy?

February 16, 2012


English: Route 66 (now Arizona State Route 66)...

Dr. Seligman is one of the founders of positive psychology. He wanted to move away from just looking at mental disorder to focus on what makes people happy. He found the following things make people happy: Living in a wealthy democracy and not an impoverished dictatorship, getting married, avoiding negative events and negative emotion, acquiring a rich social network and being religious. I am able to feel grateful about most of these things. I feel especially lucky to live in a country where we don’t have to worry about food or warfare. However, I am not able to avoid negative emotion all the time especially as I have a 3 year old who likes to vent his frustrations. On the other hand, I do feel grateful for having my son and the love he has brought to my life. I have also been able to enjoy childhood delights such as sledging in the snow and going to wave pools-both things I hadn’t done since my own childhood.

Psychologist, Robert Emmons, found that recording blessings in a gratitude journal once a week: increased subjects’ overall satisfaction with life, raised energy levels and for patients with neuromuscular disease, relieved pain and fatigue.

According to Dr. Seligman, other things that make you happy are:

1)Optimism also makes you happy so dispute your own negative beliefs. Ask yourself: What good does it do me to dwell on negative  beliefs? How can I change the situation?

2) Savouring life’s momentary pleasures and joys such as a sunny day. Take mental photographs or physical souvenirs of events.

3)Congratulating yourself for things you have achieved.

4)Paying mindful attention to the present can make us happier and reduce stress. MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) has been used on people with anxiety disorders, depression and chronic pain.  One study showed physical and psychological improvements for 225 participants with chronic intractable pain.

5) Being in a state of flow where we experience an absence of feeling, loss of self-consciousness and total engagement. For example, we can experience flow when we are dancing, playing football, reading a good book and writing. So I am hoping that writing this blog will help me experience flow and happiness! The more flow we have, the happier we are.

6) Having an overarching mission in our lives makes us happy. Seligman suggests we might get this through religion but we can also find purpose in other ways.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

Older Entries