Only Children

About 50 years ago only 10% of children under 18 years old represented the group of only children.  If you mentioned the word “only child,” people’s first thoughts were of a spoilt brat, or socially incompetent (unfit).

Over the years a lot of books and articles (based on scientific studies, observations and personal experiences) were written about the only child.  Although different perspectives still exist on whether it is good or bad to only have one child, the number of only children is climbing drastically.

Only children are the first- and last born children in their families.  Although some people can only have one child, while others choose to only have one child, it is important that people know the benefits and drawbacks of having only one child.


What are the benefits of having only one child?

  • It puts less financial strain on parents.  We all know that is quite expensive to raise children.  When you have only one child, there will be less expenses, for example clothes, doctor’s visits etc.
  • Parents of only children can give their undivided love, support and attention to the child.
  • Parents tend to have more patience as they only need to stretch themselves in one direction, instead of many directions with more children, thereby lessening the stress on them.
  • Parents can spend more time with their only child.  In the process, parents learn to know and understand their child well.


What are the drawbacks of having only one child?

  • Only children’s parents can experience constant pressure and may feel responsible to keep their child busy, and then don’t allow themselves to take a break and attend to their own needs sometimes.
  • Parents can become overprotective and unbalanced in putting all their time, attention and love in their only child.  In the process these parents can build their whole lives around a child (who may possibly want to have his own life, with his own family and interests).  When these children “leave the nest” these parents’ lives may collapse.


What are the benefits of being an only child?

  • His parents can give him the best educational opportunities (like private school, if it is important to them).
  • Financial gain – it is easier for parents to afford more and better toys, sports equipment and clothes.
  • He can create a deep bond of love and trust with his parents, as he can spend more time with his parents, and get all the attention, instead of sharing it with other siblings.
  • Only children are often known as being highly motivated, logical, multi-taskers as they tend to be “over” organised.


What are the drawbacks of being an only child?

  • An only child has his parent’s focus on him – they know him well, and also know what his abilities are – so he can’t get away with much.
  • An only child can miss out on the joy and satisfaction of being a role model / hero to a younger sibling.
  • The only child has nobody to blame for mistakes that he made, and he has to learn to take responsibility for his deeds from a young age.
  • Depending on their parents’ parenting style, only children may become very dependent on their parents to do things for them.
  • They might be stereotyped, and sometimes thought of as being overprotected, domineering and spoiled.
  • Only children can experience a lot of pressure due to the constant focus of their parents and family on them.
  • Only children sometimes tend to become perfectionists and develop an urge to please other people.


Tips on how to raise an only child.

  • Set clear boundaries, with high standards.  An only child can have the perception that he has equal power to his parents.  It is important that the only child should know that some family matters has nothing to do with him and that his parents need to deal with it.
  • Support your only child to become independent. Give your child responsibilities like feeding the dog or preparing his own lunchbox for school.
  • Help your child to make friends.  It is important for only children to have interaction with other kids (even from 18 months of age).  Arrange play dates for your child – especially with kids of his own age – as only children tend to play with either older or younger kids.
  • Improve your child’s social skills.  Demonstrate to your child how to share, loose a game, wait a turn and respect and consider others as well.
  • Preschool will play an important role in supporting your child to learn and improve his social skills.


Considerations that parents should keep in mind if they decide to have more than one child

Many parents, especially career driven couples, experience conflicted thoughts in deciding whether they should have more than one child.

Ask yourself these questions: What is really good for me, what can I handle?  Don’t decide based on what other people, family or colleagues think.  What do I want to achieve in my life, in my career?  What will I be able to give, handle and sacrifice in a family if we have one, or more than one child?  Consider the above-mentioned pros and cons, and determine which of these are important for you as a parent, before deciding what will be a good choice for you.


By Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist


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