ONLY CHILDREN (Onliness)

Attitudes toward the only child are still influenced by the opinions of an earlier day. Among the most frequently quoted statements is one by G. Stanley Hall, who said in 1907, “Being an only child is a disease in itself,” and another by the Blantons in 1927, “The only child is greatly handicapped. He cannot be expected to go through life with the same capacity for adjustment that the child reared in a family with other children has.” Others have insisted that, due to his unique position in the family, the only child is bound to be spoiled, egotistical, domineering, and therefore unpopular with his peers. In any case, he would seem to be doomed to be, in psychological terms, “maladjusted,” and in lay terms, a “brat.” Recent research has given us quite a different picture of the only child. In the first place the attitude of the parents and the climate of the home determine whether or not onliness is a disadvantage; the presence or absence of siblings does not by itself have a drastic effect on personality development (Shaffer and Shoben, 1956). In the second place, there is no “typical” only child just as there is no typical child with brothers and sisters. It is true that the child, and his parents as well, are in a special situation by virtue of the fact that he is an “only”—but this situation can be an advantage as well as a disadvantage. As Johnson and Medinnus pointed out in a recent book (1965), “Several studies have compared only with non-only college students on standard behavior and adjustment tests as well as on achievement (Fenton, 1928; Campbell, 1933; Dyer, 1945), whereas other studies have employed teacher ratings of elementary school children (Fenton, 1928; Gilford and Worcester, 1930). In general, the findings have indicated no essential differences between only and other children.” The reason there are no essential personality differences is probably twofold: first, there are plus factors in the situation that compensate for the difficulties of being an only child; and second, parents are usually aware of these difficulties and find ways of offsetting them. The only child as a rule spends more time with adults and identifies more completely with them; he therefore tends to be more mature than other children, and maturity has been found to contribute to social adjustment. He also advances more rapidly in language development (Davis, 1931), and there is some evidence that he is superior in intellectual achievement (Faris, 1940; McCurdy, 1957; West, 1960). The latter finding is probably due not only to stimulation from adults, but to the richer imaginative life of children who are not constantly involved in social relationships.These plus factors help to counterbalance the disadvantages of being an only child. Parents have also learned that all children must learn to adjust to their peers as early as possible in life. They therefore make special efforts to give the only child nursery school experience and to involve him in after- school activities at later ages. This is easier, of course, in urban than in rural areas, but even the country child has more opportunities for social contact than ever before due to increased transportation and communication facilities. Sometimes these relationships are more satisfying and less disruptive than the jealousies and rivalries that take place between siblings. Moreover, an ample program of social and extracurricular activities for the only child will make him more independent and keep his mother from showering too much attention on him.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "ONLY CHILDREN (Onliness)," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/only-children-onliness/ (accessed October 15, 2019).
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