The odd one out: Myths about only children
For many, a classic childhood movie was “Wild child”. The movie is centered on the character Poppy Moore who is depicted as spoiled, selfish, narcissistic, dependent on her father’s money and bad with building relationships all because she grew up by herself in a wealthy household, a basic only child stereotype.
In fact, think of every character (whether it’s from a movie or a book) that was an only child. Typically, those characters have what is called “Only child Syndrome”, which is a name for the traits that are tied with being an only child.
Social psychologist Susan Newman writes, “These social stereotypes and others date back to the late 1890s and have no basis in fact”. Only children have often been characterized with negative traits such as spoiled, self-centered, aggressive, narcissistic, dependent, weird and lacking social skills however, the truth is only children are just as “normal’ as children with siblings.
First off, being an only child does not make one aggressive and lack social skills. Naturally, humans have a primal need to be accepted. C. Nathan DeWall writes “living in a group helped early humans survive harsh environments. Because of that, being part of a group still helps people feel safe and protected”.
Although an only child may be able to get away with being aggressive and bossy with their parents, that kind of attitude will cost them relationships with their peers. “A bossy, aggressive attitude is a quick ticket to ostracism from the group,” Newman said.
On top of that, only children aren’t necessarily the only children to be selfish. “Selfishness means you are thinking of yourself as opposed to others,” Michael Lewis, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School said. Everyone has been selfish at one point in their lives, regardless of if they have siblings or not.
It’s also important not to confuse selfishness with being independent. Just because a child is comfortable with being by themselves and enjoys being alone doesn’t mean they don't care for anyone but themselves. It just means that they don’t need the constant presence of someone else to enjoy their time.
As for being spoiled, that is more of a parenting result rather than the result of being an only child. Regardless if one has siblings or not, if parents let their child get whatever they want whenever they want, the child may end up being spoiled rotten.
However, families with one child may be able to afford to expose their child to a wider range of experiences. Journalist Cory Stieg writes “only children may be presented with more opportunities for education than people with siblings and get to spend more time with their parents”.
Also, since only children spend so much time with their parents, they tend to have great social skills with adults. Stieg writes, “Nick (a 27-year-old only child) believes that relationships between parents and only children are ‘much more grand’ he said. ‘I always felt confident talking with adults in my childhood and feel my single-child upbringing cultivated strong communication skills.”’