Single children often face a pre- conceived reputation in the society. Spoiled, selfish anti-social and anti- sharing are just a few adjectives associated with the only children in a family. But the truth many a time remains that they are just normal if not smarter like any other child growing up with siblings.
Parents generally tend to be apprehensive if the single- child status would affect the personality of their child in the long run. Growing up as an only child definitely moulds the personality and behaviour in certain ways but like any situation in life this also has its pros and cons.
Single children families have become increasingly common today. The sibling-free status in fact puts the child in advantage because he is never dethroned by another sibling. Children who are dethroned by a new born might feel inferior and develop psychological problems as a result of the sudden loss of attention they were used to.
Of course the single children may not be as good as their counterparts in the trait of 'agreeableness' which is a measure of sociability but they are far ahead in flexibility - how well a person is able to think in novel ways, or outside the box - considered as a marker for creativity, independence and decision making. As a matter of fact single children get along very well with adults and authority figures during their different stages of life.
Studies have shown that 'only' children have major advantages, namely in achievement, reliability, intelligence and creativity. They may also have better relationships with their parents, and fewer behavioral problems in school. 'Only' children are usually overly confident, because no one steals the attention they get from their parents. But while getting used to being the center of focus, this sometimes make them showy adults. Children grow up trying to extend the environment they used to live in. So the child who is showered with attention will fight for this attention when he grows up in order to feel good.
Another interesting point is that, single children usually impress adults with their brilliance and ability to grasp. As a result of growing up with adults around them they learn quickly and develop better life skills. But if spoiled, a single child will develop a completely different personality traits like lack of proper life skills and lack of self-confidence.
There may be apparently a few drawbacks of being an only child, too. We cannot ignore arguments that too much attention and excessive praise received from their parents and grandparents, may cause undesirable personality traits such as dependency, selfishness and social ineptitude in these children. Additionally, due to the absence of siblings, it is generally feared that 'only' children usually miss out on important opportunities to experience sibling love, the joys of sharing, teamwork, exploring or quarrelling and making up in the safety of home environment but they do escape from facing ugly sibling rivalry.
An only child essentially has the ability to entertain himself and to feel good on his own as a result of finding himself alone most of the time. This doesn't mean that only children are not social but it only means that they can enjoy the company of others as well as enjoying their own company. For them, leadership and generosity comes naturally. It is no wonder that single children are found to be more responsible and mature than their fellow beings.
It is worth noting that single children must be encouraged to play and interact with other kids to develop the social skills and traits that will help him connect with others. If isolated, then he might not develop social interest and might not learn how to cooperate with others. It is a known fact that 'only' children are socially self- conscious; many of them are not comfortable with sharing pictures or disclosing personal details on public platforms even in today's sharing- centric world.
As psychologist Carl Pickhardt Ph.D puts it, only children can “push themselves pretty hard. ” They mostly remain self motivated to live up to the standards of high expectations. But they tend to be extremely sensitive, value their privacy, prefer to do things their own way. At the same time, they are very considerate towards others' feelings too. With no sibling to share the emotional burden they are inclined to worry too much about parents getting older and turn over protective.
On a concluding note, in the nuclear family structure that we live in today; in the fast and busy lifestyle where we strive to survive, in the social set up of siblings fighting legal battles over property, there can be no better option than being a single child. Society may want parents to have more than one child, but there is no legitimate reason to attach stigma to 'only' children or those parents who choose to be happy with only one because they wouldn't wish their lives to be any different!
(Author is the Director TGL Foundation, Editor - Anthropology Today, Sr Dir FWO)