We have recently had a number of posts from parents of onlies and also some onlies themselves, who have not been particularly happy about being the only child in the family. I thought I would post some of my own thoughts and experiences to add to this discussion.
I believe the only-child experience, that is growing up with no siblings with whom to interact is a different one. Whilst it is not unique it is still different to one where a child has the opportunity to grow up with siblings. Siblings like parents, mirror you and teach you things about yourself.
Parents primarily engage with us in caring ways, and model adult aspects of behaviour and emotional intelligence. From this we can learn to grow up and mature and also have the image of ourselves as warm, confident, and loving people, as this is what has hopefully been mirrored to us from our parents.
Siblings, on the other hand, mirror back our child-like selves and enable us to see ourselves as our peers see us. I believe this is very important because one of the difficulties only children can have is behaving like ‘little adults’. This is when a child takes on adult or parent attributes as a result of spending far more time around adults than they do children. All children want to please their parents so the behaviours that are often reinforced are the adult ones, not the messy noisy child-like ones. Non-family members may well recognize these adult ways of behaving, as precocious, which do not always fit well on a child. A fact that can mean the only-child is not always seen as ‘cute’ or ‘clever’ as their parents believe!
Children need to be children and learn adult behaviours as they grow into adolescence, rather than being groomed into an ‘adult-child’. If we do not learn how to play as a young person it is unlikely we will learn this in later life and I think this is very sad. People with few child-like abilities to enjoy themselves, can be quite dull. Play is the way we learn and we use our creativity to try out new and different challenges.
Siblings also help us discover how we and others experience different emotional states, whether it is anger, frustration, rivalry, envy; or joy, fun, playfulness and friendship. We have these reflected back to us from siblings. When we annoy a sibling, we get an instant reaction, so that we learn the boundaries of our interactions with them. Everyone is different, but when we have a firm grasp of one person’s emotional states and learn how to interact well with them, as well as learning the consequences when we don’t, this is the foundation of developing other friendships outside of the home.
Difficulties only-children have had at school, is evidenced many times from stories I have received from adult onlies who have been bullied at school, mainly as a result of not behaving in ways other children recognized. Usually it is because they tend to behave in more ‘adult’ ways, which do not sit well with their classmates. Always being the ‘good’ girl or boy does not endear you to other children. Not feeling comfortable in joining boisterous play is another potential only-child trait, as is being excessively tidy or conscientious, not bad things in themselves but sometimes seen by the only-child as more important than just being around other children, simply because they have not had the same opportunities to do that compared to children with siblings.
Siblings can offer a lot of potential learning but if you haven’t any its not the end of the world! Ideally, nowadays, parents are much better at helping their only-child have plenty of time playing with other children, and not just being around other adults.