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Only Children are Not Necessarily Lonely Children

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For many parents, the decision to try for a second baby is as difficult and complex as the decision to have a child at all. Though these choices are quite personal, there are social and cultural pressures to have multiple children. Those pressures can become judgmental. Some of this judgment may be due to the myth that only children are lonely, bossy, selfish, etc. This stereotype surfaced in the 1800’s when psychologist G. Stanley Hall declared that being an only child was a disease in itself. Research has since debunked this myth. Some studies illustrate the positives of being an only child, while others indicate that for all intents and purposes, only children are indistinguishable from their peers with siblings.

There are many reasons parents have only one or more children. Economics play a big role. Raising children can be expensive, and parents want to make sure they can provide for any child they conceive. Interestingly – but not so surprisingly – one of the few thriving industries in our troubled economy is birth control. Some parents out there have tried unsuccessfully to have more children. Fertility treatments are both emotionally and financially taxing, and having additional children might not be best for the overall wellbeing of the family.

According to some research, children with siblings may be better at conflict resolution than only children. However, this is not a definitive characteristic. Children with siblings certainly get many opportunities to practice these skills, but so do many only children. Children who spend time with other children in day care, school, with extended families, etc. get these opportunities as do children with siblings. Does family have to be defined only in terms of the nuclear?

Parents who provide activities that expose only children to peers typically have well-adjusted kids who are happy, able to resolve conflicts, and who can interact appropriately. At the end of the day, happy parents lead to happy children, and when a couple decides that having one child will lead to a happier home, then that decision is in the best interests of the child. When parents have the desire to expand their family but have difficulty, it can be more complicated emotionally, particularly when their child asks for a brother or sister. Parents can and should mourn the loss of their desire do have more children, with professional help if necessary, so they can continue to be the most fulfilled parents they can be. Despite the perpetuated myth, only children are not necessarily lonely children.

It is difficult to formulate a response to a youngster who questions parents about having siblings. When responding, it is better not to emphasize the downsides of siblinghood (e.g. sibling rivalries) or to divulge the challenges of conception. It is best to simply convey the love and dedication the family has for one another, as well as the importance of friendship and community.

Sibling interaction is not the only way to develop interpersonal skills. Ultimately, parents who attend to their children, build on their strengths, and help them learn to improve in any areas of development that require attention are being the best parents they can be. Myths are just stereotypes and hold no bearing when it comes to raising competent and content children.

When people imply that having only one child is wrong, it can be insulting and hurtful. Many challenges come with parenthood. Barriers prevent some parents from expanding and free will prevents others. Who is to say what is right for each family?

Jaime earned her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Yeshiva University. She works in a private practice in NYC doing psychotherapy and evaluations. Jaime’s specialty is in working with individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum. www.spectrumservicesnyc.com. JaimeBlackPsyD@gmail.com. (914)712-8208.

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