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.

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