The single child has often been stereotyped, in terms of their behaviour and capabilities. G Stanley Hall, pioneering American psychologist who focused on child development, had once (in)famously said that a lonely child was a “disease in itself”. Other theories over the years have also contributed to how an only child is perceived as oversensitive, lonely and sometimes, a misfit in the society.
A lot of couples today are now choosing to have a single child. On other occasions, factors like delayed parenthood or fertility problems, among other issues, can also result in an only child.
A recent study showed how only children are more creative. The environment a child grows up in can impact his or her brain cells, the study suggests. Conducted by researchers at Southwest University in China in 2016, the study investigated the differences in cognition and personality between only-children and non-only children. While there was no difference in intelligence, only children exhibited secured higher flexibility scores, which measures how well a person can think outside the box.
An only child’s greater creativity can, perhaps, be attributed to how parents are able to focus more time and energy on him or her, as also suggested by clinical psychologist Linda Blair, author of Birth Order.
Only children, however, got lower agreeable scores, a measure of sociability, empathy and connection, as compared to non-only children, as per the study.
In an interview with Psychology Today, Susan Newman, sociologist and author of Parenting an Only Child, pointed out, “We have been brainwashed into believing that siblings are socially or intellectually advantageous, or both. Necessary. As a means of insuring positive development and happiness, they are not mandatory. Large studies in the US and China have concluded that only children have as many friends as their peers with siblings.”
Only children have conventionally been thought to be selfish and spoiled. Newman clarifies in one of her articles Only Child Stereotypes: Fact vs Fiction, “Every child at one time or another believes the world revolves around him…In the absence of siblings, parents cultivate the tools of sharing and feeling for others…All parents can expect their toddlers and teens to act selfishly at times.”
Union health ministry’s National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4), 2018, only 24 per cent of married women between 15 and 49 and 27 per cent of men in India reportedly want a second child. This means that only children are way more common today as compared to earlier times. In the past, “only children were in the vast minority, so they often felt bullied and left out. But nowadays, this is a positive choice for a lot of parents so the kid feels not that unusual and also they don’t feel overprotected, they just feel valued,” Blair was quoted by The Guardian in an article.