Ronita Dutta
November 2016.

Do only children develop differently?

1 answer

According to the latest set of figures from the Office for National Statistics figures, around half of the families in the UK have only one child. 

As an only child who is mother to an only child, I’ve looked into the psychology of only child development extensively. The classic caricature of the only child as a selfish little prince or princess who is socially maladjusted, narcissistic, spoiled and unable to communicate effectively with their peers is actually completely unfounded. 

There’s substantial academic research that suggests only children have less mental health issues than children with siblings, are more motivated in life and have higher self-esteem rather than superiority issues. Only children also tend to perform better academically and be higher achievers. This is often because they are exposed to intellectual adult conversation, thoughts and ideas from an earlier age. They receive more focused parental attention than children with siblings too.

Leonardo da Vinci, Robert De Niro, Maria Sharapova, Thomas Edison and Condoleezza Rice are just a few examples of high-achieving successful only children. However, only children do also tend to be more approval seeking and have a tendency towards perfectionism. This is largely because they end up having to be – or at least trying to be – everything to everyone. Parents of only children need to be mindful of their offspring’s need to please.