Only Child Syndrome: Stereotyping In Disguise!

by on August 4, 2012

in Guest Onlies


Here is an interesting article and the start of some research from 17 year old Alexandra Baker whose own experience has inspired her to do a project on only child stereotyping. If you want to take part click the link below!

Link to the survey:

Alexandra says: As an only child, I have been intrigued (and often angered!) by the comments made by others who say all only children are lonely spoiled brats who are unable to share. Where has this unfair presumption come from? I am a 17-year-old student from the UK and my first-hand experience of such negative comments has inspired me to undertake a project (Extended Project Qualification) looking into only children and how they are viewed by others. Through my project I hope to show that only children don’t deserve such unfair stereotyping.

I’m sure many only children have overheard people talking about only children and heard them being described as ‘spoiled’, ‘lonely’ and ‘not able to share’. If only children got paid for every time someone said: ‘You’re an only child! You must be so spoiled!’, they could retire at 18!

Personally I feel that such comments could show the unfortunate reality that only children are the victims of a negative stereotypical view, which can often undermine their true personalities. I have often heard people complain about someone’s behaviour and at the same time comment on that person’s lack of siblings, as if both are linked. For example, I once heard someone say:

‘She is so desperate to be the best. It’s because she’s an only child and her parents have showered her in praise all her life and so she believes that she should always be better than everyone else.’

People often link someone acting selfishly as a result of being an only child – but isn’t everyone guilty of acting selfishly on occasions? For some reason many people are happy to blame an out-of-character action on the person being an only child, when, if it happened to someone with siblings, they wouldn’t necessarily link it to them having a certain number of siblings. For me, this shows how people often link being an only child to unpleasant behaviour.

People are often shocked when I say I’m an only child because, according to them, I don’t fit the typical personality of an only child. In order to be an only child I apparently have to show signs of being selfish and over-indulged. In their eyes, an only child who is modestly brought up, aware of the feelings of others and is able to share is a complete anomaly.

Such personal experience has inspired me to look into the personalities of only children and explore whether a stereotypical view of only children does exist. I also want to investigate whether the stereotype is justified and whether, if being honest about themselves, only children would say that they fit the stereotype.

Only Child Syndrome has emerged as the term commonly used to describe stereotypical negative social traits of only children, however I feel that Only Child Syndrome is mainly a way for people to label only children in a negative way. For me personally, the term ‘Only Child Syndrome’ is the term ‘stereotype’ in disguise. If only children were to think critically about their personalities, would many genuinely say they were selfish, spoiled and unable to mix with others? Some may disagree, and perhaps Only Child Syndrome only affects particular only children, but I’m sure many only children would struggle to diagnose themselves with such an affliction. However, it still continues that in the eyes of many people with siblings, the symptoms of Only Child Syndrome are highly contagious and rife amongst people with no siblings.

I am very interested in your opinion of whether, as an only child, you believe that the stereotypes are a justified representation of you. I have built a survey, in which only children are able to describe their personalities, using the adjectives which have gained the most and the least response in my earlier survey for children with siblings. I hope this will determine whether or not the preconceptions accurately describe only children and I would very much appreciate it if you would be able to participate. The survey is hosted online and is completely anonymous – Link to the survey:


  • Theresa

    I am an only child and I can certainly agree with what you have posted. Only children are often stereotyped as spoiled brats. Seven years ago when my mother passed away my father and his parents were there to help at the funeral home. The director asked, “You don’t have any siblings, do you?” My grandfather piped up, “Nope! She’s a spoiled rotten little only child.” I was floored by the words that had come out of his mouth! I had heard many people describe only children in that fashion, but had never had it directed at me. He immediately began to backtrack and said, “Well, I guess she’s not spoiled or rotten, but she is an only child.” I could hardly believe my ears because as most only children, I grew up in a house of adults. My mother never moved away from home and when her and my father married, my father moved in w/ my mother and grandfather. I was taught to share, that others’ feelings came first, and how to be responsible.

    I have recently had to bury my father and at 35 years old, I realized exactly how alone an only child truly is. Yes we are harder on ourselves, but there are reasons. We have never had anyone to compare ourselves to and because of that we, only children, tend to be perfectionists. Personally, I believe that many people would be quite surprised as to how well adjusted only children are compared to others. We tend to have always looked at things as taught by our parents, in an adult fashion. We can ‘remove’ ourselves from a situation and look at it from the outside in, because of this we can make fair and informed decisions in our lives.

    I did not have an only child myself, because I wanted my children to have the chance to have blood related nieces and nephews, (something I will never experience, but I do love my nieces from my brothers-in-law more than anything!) I married, and had two children.

  • LadyBB

    This is really interesting. I’m the parent of an only child and it’s been a bit of a learning curve for us – we are both from biggish families. I’ve noticed these kind of comments come up a lot, and more in the last couple of years. Now that my daughter is five, it’s clearer that she is an only child rather than an only child ‘for now’. My daughter is indulged more than I was as a child to be honest, in terms of both time and money. We are a very sociable family and she spends a lot of time with other children, including going on group holidays with friends a couple of times a year. Her teacher at school has told me that she actually has the best of both because she is very sociable and plays well with other children, but if no one wants to do what she wants to do, she shrugs it off and does it on her own. I would say though, that the ‘getting lots of attention’ thing has its downside. I’ve noticed I’m much more likely to see poor behaviour and usually have the time to point it out and correct it. Friends with more than one end up having to let things go more I think. Since I’ve become more conscious of this, I’ve tried to do the same.

  • NE.

    My only issue concerning this is that people think something is worng with you because you prefer to be alone. I had no problem socializing but it was more comfortable to be reading a book or playing with my science or electric sets alone. And with the advent of the internet, I’ve made acquaintances who are also loners but come from big families with lots of siblings.

    Growing up many people blamed it on being and only child.

  • CP

    Hi Alexandra, I have just speedily read through your post (with intentions to return to it later) – Your piece of research sounds very interesting. The quick comment that I wanted to make was that, yes, I have had similar barbed and negative comments thrown my way during my childhood and adult life, about being spoiled etc. It caused me to think about the other syndromes we label “middle-children” or “eldest” or “the baby of the family” – I am not sure we can escape this totally but it would be great if we could all practice a little less judgement and assumption around birth order.

  • Lisa

    I have had trouble with loneliness but I have an aversion to people because I was bullied in elementary school. As a toddler I remember I always liked people by default and every year at school looked forward to making new friends. I do get VERY angry at the idea that the only child is spoiled. There is an element of not having to problem solve on some of the same issues as a house with siblings, but I was far from spoiled. I did NOT get my way, I did NOT get all the toys I wanted, and I was definitely punished for acting up. An upshot of having been an only child is I am not afraid to do everyday activities (go out to dinner, go to movies, etc.) alone like many people are. I am not saying this is how all people-with-siblings are, but this is definitely something I learned by playing by myself often in childhood.

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