Parenting an Only Child

How common are only children?

In the US today, families have an average of 1.9 children. 20% of women only have one child.


Raising kids is very expensive, so having just one saves the family money, but also may allow them to fit in luxuries like vacations, private school, and activities they couldn’t afford if they had multiple children.

Having fewer children is better for the environment.

It may be easier for a parent to manage their career with only one child.

Parents of one may feel much less frazzled and overwhelmed than if they had multiple kids to juggle.

An only child doesn’t feel like they have to compete for love and attention.

Strengths of Only Children

Research shows that only children score just as well as siblings on traits such as maturity, popularity, generosity, cooperativeness, flexibility, independence, emotional stability and contentment.

Only children have higher intelligence, are more motivated in school, have higher self-esteem, good language skills (from all that adult conversation), and better relationships with parents.

Parents of only children tend to be happier than those with multiple children.


Potential Pitfalls and how to minimize

Avoid the “lonely only.” Help your child build friendships.

  • It’s easy for parent to become the child’s best friend. Those children may seek out adult company and have a harder time relating to peers.
  • Ensure that your child has plenty of play time with other kids. Especially seek out long-term connections – friends or family your child will have the opportunity to interact with for years. That gives them some of the long-term history of relationhip they would have with a sibling.
  • Consider joining boy / girl scouts, 4-H, church group, or some other long-term group activity.

Help them learn to manage conflict. Only children don’t have the built-in practice at conflict resolution that kids with siblings have.

  • Try not to become too involved in playground conflicts. Children will learn more from the experience if they have to figure out on their own how to resolve it.

Don’t pressure your child to be everything you ever hoped your child (or you) could become. In some families, onlies feel like all the hopes of the family are riding on their shoulders. They can become anxious, pressured perfectionists.

  • Let them be kids. The good news about onlies is that they’re very good at operating in an adult world, with good manners, sophisticated vocabulary, and so on. But make sure you also take some time to go to the playground and let them run around and scream all they want.

Don’t pressure yourself too much. Parent of only children often feel like they only have “one chance to get it right” and are very hard on themselves when they make any mistakes.

Help them to be responsible and independent.

  • It can be easy to do everything for your child and always step in to rescue things when they have any challenge. Some day observe a large family, and you’ll see how much more parents expect and how much more their kids can do without that parental intervention.
  • Give your child chores and expect them to get done.
  • Your child won’t have the built-in opportunity to teach and mentor a younger sibling. Look for places where he or she can have a positive influence on a younger child.

Don’t let other people’s comments / judgments get to you or your child. Insensitive people may ask your child if they want a sibling. They may ask you if you’re planning more and want to know why not. They may assume you’re selfish, don’t like parenting, are infertile, are having marital strife… Feeling positive about parenting an only child, and letting your child know why you feel good about it can help both of you withstand these moments.

Don’t spoil / over-indulge your child. Set clear limits, and be sure they don’t always get their way. This also reduces the chance you’ll have a “bossy” child. If they’ve learned that it doesn’t work to boss you around, they won’t try to boss others around.

Find ways to teach and model generosity and sharing.

Don’t over-protect. It can be easy to become a helicopter parent, hovering closely around your only child. Try to stand back and give them space to make their own mistakes (and learn from them).




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