Growing Up as an Only Child: Pros and Cons

Growing up as an only child has its advantages and inconveniences. Find out what they are in today's article and make the best of things.
Growing Up as an Only Child: Pros and Cons
María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

In this article, we’ll demystify some of the common myths and shed some light on what it’s like growing up as an only child.

Every day there are more and more families that have just one child. Whether it be for medical reasons or personal decisions, this type of family is a growing tendency.

Growing up as an only child

Currently, we find ourselves in the face of a very different social panorama regarding family than we did in the past. Birth rates are constantly lowering, and the fertility rate (that is, the number of children per mother) averages at 1.8.

This reveals a growing tendency in our society towards a phenomenon that was, in the past, considered a rarity. Families with only one child are becoming quite common. There are many beliefs associated with children (and adults) that grow up without siblings. But, is there any truth to these stereotypes?

The advantages of growing up as an only child

Only children usually get a great deal of attention from their parents. Their mothers and fathers carry out their task as parents with exclusive dedication. They have no need to divide their time or affection. As a result, their only child feels supported and taken care of, and tends to develop a healthy self-esteem.

Parents with just one child usually have more economic resources to offer. This allows their children to enjoy a greater variety of experiences in different areas of life.

Growing Up as an Only Child: Pros and Cons

These children grow up in a world of adults, in constant contact with them. Adults are their role models and their main source of interaction.

Said circumstances lead to a greater development of creativity, imagination and mental flexibilityFor the same reason, only children tend to have a faster intellectual development – both linguistic and cognitive.

Not having siblings means they have a lot of time to be alone. Adults can’t usually spend all their time playing. Therefore, these children know how to adapt to being on their own, dedicating time to hobbies, getting to know themselves and being more independent. These children tend to be calmer, more introverted and more mature.

Only children don’t have siblings to shift blame to, or to share blame with. From a young age, they learn to accept responsibility. This makes them more efficient both in life and at work.

Disadvantage to growing up as an only child

The negative part of being the object of your parents’ dedication is that the attention can be excessive. If that happens, children can become spoiled and self-centered.

Furthermore, this excessive attention can lead to overprotection, causing children to develop a shy, fearful and overly cautious personality. 

Not having someone in their family environment to compete with, play with, and share as equals is an obstacle when it comes to developing certain abilities.

As a result, children who grow up without siblings often have a harder time expressing their needs with others. Confrontation can be a major issue for them, since they don’t know how to go about it.

They can also have a harder time being generous, both with material goods as with their emotions. They tend to think that people should take care of themselves. This, along with their individuality, can make them come off as self-centered.

Many times, these children are treated like adults, given the advanced maturity that they display. This can restrict their spontaneity and cause them to be overly rigid.

Only children can feel lonely at times because they don’t have that complicity that siblings offer. These children may become withdrawn and reserved.

Growing Up as an Only Child: Pros and Cons

What to do to avoid the disadvantages

  • It’s vital that parents set limits, lovingly. Only children must learn to respect other people’s time and to be able to take “no” as an answer.
  • Rather than overprotecting only children, parents should offer their children the possibility of learning to get along on their own.
  • To avoid self-centeredness, parents need to teach their children how to share and take turns. Only children need to understand that, unlike what happens at home, the attention and praise of adults won’t always be directed at them. Their parents need to give them opportunities to socialize with other children. In this sense, cousins are extremely important.
  • While only children may seem mature, we should never forget that they’re still children and it’s important to give them the space to be spontaneous. 
  • To ease the subjective sense of loneliness, it’s important that parents always offer support and understanding.

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.

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