9 Myths about Having an Only Child

There are a number of myths about being an only child. Are they really spoiled, tyrannical, and selfish? Are they individualistic and have worse relationships with other people? We'll tell you the truth here.
9 Myths about Having an Only Child

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 20 September, 2022

The composition of our families of origin shapes certain aspects of our personalities. However, this has given rise to a series of false beliefs, many of them associated with what it means to be an only child.

It’s not true that the eldest child is always a leader, nor is it true that the youngest is always spoiled and dependent. Nor is it true that an only child is a petty tyrant marked by selfishness. The determining factor in each case is the parenting style.

An only child doesn’t always have the exclusive attention of his or her parents. Each child’s temperament is dif,ferent and the way he or she is raised varies.

So, it’s time to stop giving credence to certain beliefs. Today, we’re going to talk about the unfounded myths about being an only child.

We think you may also enjoy reading this article: What to Do When Children Prefer One Parent Over the Other

Only children

Until a while ago, it was common for couples to decide to have several children. This has changed a lot, to the point where it’s estimated that about 40% of families have only one child. It’s also very likely that this trend will continue and even increase.

Many parents have doubts about whether or not to have an only child. These hesitations stem, to a large extent, from erroneous beliefs on the subject. The truth is that there’s no serious evidence that the absence of siblings is a problem.

False beliefs about the only child are of long standing. Without going too far back, the first president of the American Psychological Association, Granville Stanley Hall, went so far as to say that “being an only child is a disease in itself.” This has been proven to be untrue, but those kinds of claims have caught on.

Some false beliefs about having an only child

A large study done in Germany and published in 2019 concluded that there’s no link between being an only child and having narcissistic traits or being more self-centered. Other research has reached similar results.

The following are the main beliefs about the only child that are unfounded.

1. Only children are more selfish

This is perhaps the most widespread myth surrounding being an only child. It’s said that because they don’t have any siblings, they don’t learn to share.

This is partly true, since they have to live their little adventures and experiences on their own. This makes them braver and more independent.

However, it’s the upbringing that instills the ability to share with others. There are children who are selfish, even if they have siblings. Thereore, this is not a determining factor.

siblings fighting
Children with siblings can also be selfish. It’s more the upbringing that’s the determining factor than the presence or absence of siblings.

2. They have difficulty relating to others

Children with siblings often develop social skills faster and more fluently. Meanwhile, the only child does so with the other children with whom he or she has contact.

The former may have some advantages, but it’s not significant. In fact, only children tend to build stronger friendships precisely because they value companionship so much.

3. Only children have a greater need for affection

It’s not true that an only child grows up needing everyone’s attention and pampering. In fact, the opposite is often true.

Because he or she has had exclusive attention at home, there’s usually no need for him or her to fill a void or seek external recognition. However, again, it’s important to remember that it’s their nurturing that’s the determining factor.

4. They’re less skilled at managing their emotions

This may be the most untrue of all beliefs about being an only child. Only children must learn how to work out many of their experiences for themselves, allowing them to know themselves better and develop more autonomy.

Therefore, they also become more adept at managing their emotions. In particular, this occurs because they interact with adults most of the time.

5. They have a more limited childhood

This is one of the factors where parenting is decisive. If a child is overprotected and isolated, he or she will have more limited experiences.

On the other hand, if parents encourage interaction with other children and with the world, their experiences will be fuller. An only child grows up alone, without other children around. Whether this becomes limiting or not depends on his or her parents.

Like this article? You may also like to read: The Thinking Chair: Is This Method Useful for Teaching Children?

6. Only children are tyrants

Having a tyrannical personality doesn’t depend on being an only child. Parents who don’t set boundaries for their children and who give in to their children’s whims will generate tyrannical children, regardless of whether they have siblings or not.

Establishing rules of coexistence and respecting them is the basis for children not to develop an overflowing narcissism.

7. They have everything and therefore don’t value anything

Valuing what you have is something parents teach through parenting. If children are given everything and are not taught to have an appreciation for what they receive, they will devalue what they possess. However, this has nothing to do with being an only child or not.

8. Only children are more competitive

An only child doesn’t face competition for parental affection, as happens with children who have siblings. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, they tend to be more autonomous and less dependent on the behavior of others. There’s a greater tendency for children with siblings to compare themselves with others.

9. They don’t know how to work as part of a team

The only child shares his or her life with adults. The age difference means that both parents and child must make efforts to communicate better and share.

This favors the development of empathy and the ability to interact with people who think and are different. They have no problem working as a team.

A team of children
The ability to collaborate, work as a team, and relate to others sin’t related to whether or not children have siblings.

The focus should always be on parenting

Parents of an only child should strive not to become overprotective. It’s also important to facilitate socialization with other children, as this is very important for their development.

However, it’s also important to remember that solating them and keeping them alone among adults is not a good idea.

A pet can give them company and a sense of protection and care, so this is a good alternative. The most important thing is to offer a healthy upbringing with clear values and boundaries. In this way, your child will develop in a healthy way.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Quilodrán, J. (2000). Atisbos de cambios en la formación de las parejas conyugales a fines del milenio. Papeles de población, 6(25), 1.
  • Dufner, M., Back, M. D., Oehme, F. F., & Schmukle, S. C. (2020). The end of a stereotype: Only children are not more narcissistic than people with siblings. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11(3), 416-424.
  • FIRPO, P., & RICHARD-PALMERO, F. (2018). Habilidades sociales: diferencias entre adolescentes con hermanos mayores y adolescentes sin hermanos (Doctoral dissertation, Tesis de licenciatura). Universidad del Aconcagua, Argentina. http://bibliotecadigital. uda. edu. ar/objetos_digitales/843/tesis-6118-habilidadess. pdf).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.