The 8 Most Common Mistakes When Raising an Only Child

Despite your good intentions, you may make some mistakes when raising an only child. Recognizing these mistakes is the first step to correcting them and providing healthy parenting for your little one.
The 8 Most Common Mistakes When Raising an Only Child
Vanesa Evangelina Buffa

Written and verified by the dentist Vanesa Evangelina Buffa.

Last update: 05 March, 2024

Raising an only child can present unique challenges for parents, as they have no previous experience to guide them, which can lead to inadvertent mistakes. Identifying these common mistakes and striving to correct them is critical to fostering the healthy and balanced development of young children without siblings.

Over time, there has been a perception that only children are selfish and narcissistic or that they have difficulty socializing. Although these myths have been debunked, these beliefs can still affect families, adding an additional burden.

Given the lack of experience in raising multiple children and the sincere desire to provide the best, parents can make mistakes that influence the development of their little ones. Below, we’ll share the eight most common mistakes in raising an only child siblings and suggestions on how to correct them.

1. Overprotection

An overprotective mother.

Overprotection is one of the most common mistakes in raising an only child and is often manifested by the lack of siblings with whom to share attention. In order to avoid situations of distress, pain, or conflict in their little ones, parents take it upon themselves to carry out actions that their children could do on their own.

Overcare and overprotection of the child from any possible danger can have negative consequences by limiting their independence and autonomy. The dangers of overprotection can also carry over into adulthood through unfounded fears.

To avoid this mistake, you must allow your child to explore and experience the world on their own; with proper supervision, but with freedom. The key is to strike a balance between safety and opportunity.

Foster a safe environment, but at the same time, encourage your child to explore and face age-appropriate challenges. This attitude will help your unique child develop problem-solving skills and confidence. This will also contribute to the development of social skills, independence, and resilience.

2. Unrealistic expectations

Another common mistake in raising only children is for parents to have unrealistic expectations about their child’s performance and behavior, which creates uncomfortable and unnecessary pressures. Expecting them to be the best in school, sports, music, and other areas causes overexertion in the child that translates into stress and anxiety.

It’s important for parents to remember that each child has their own talents, strengths, and weaknesses. Giving children the opportunity to explore their interests and develop their skills at their own pace is fundamental to healthy parenting.

Support your child and celebrate their achievements and efforts, no matter how big or small, rather than imposing unrealistic expectations. Foster an environment where your child is valued for being themself and not for fulfilling your wishes.

3. Lack of social interaction

With no siblings, only children may not have enough opportunities to develop the social skills that come naturally from interacting with peers at home. Parents may inadvertently make the mistake of not providing spaces for children to interact with other children.

According to a paper reported in the Bulletin of Educational Psychology, there are no significant differences in social competencies when comparing preschool children with and without siblings.

The socialization of children doesn’t depend on the number of family members but on the situations to which they’re exposed when they’re with others, the relationship with their parents, and the socialization practices that the adults of reference carry out.

Therefore, fathers and mothers have a fundamental role in facilitating their children’s interaction with others. To make amends for the absence of siblings at home, look for situations for your child to interact with other children, such as after-school activities, playing with friends, and social groups. This will promote communication skills, empathy, and friendship.

4. Too many activities

In contrast to the previous mistake, some parents seek to avoid their only child’s loneliness and feel pressure to keep them busy all the time. However, scheduling every minute of their day with classes and activities can exhaust the child and not leave enough space for play, relaxation, and even boredom.

It’s important to find a balance between structured activities and free time for your child. Having unplanned time helps them discover their interests, learn to self-regulate, and tolerate boredom.

Allow your child to rest, have fun, or relax without guidelines or rules. Don’t feel guilty about their boredom or loneliness; these moments help them observe their interests and stimulate their creativity.

5. Lack of limits

Moodiness in children.

In some families with only one child, there’s a tendency to overindulge the child to compensate for the absence of siblings. Parents sometimes find it difficult to set limits or withhold something from their child without feeling guilty.

Although the desire to make children happy all the time is understandable, overindulgence and a lack of clear limits can have negative consequences. Depriving children of learning to handle frustration and practice self-regulation can affect their overall development.

To avoid this mistake, parents must take responsibility for nurturing and setting clear, simple, age-appropriate limits. These limits aren’t only healthy, but also offer security, organize their world, and contribute to balanced growth.

6. Not teaching them to share

When alone at home, it’s normal for children without siblings to feel that everything is theirs and theirs alone. For example, toys or their parents’ attention. One of the most common mistakes in raising an only child is not teaching them to share their things.

For a long time, only children were labeled as selfish. Although this is known to be nothing more than a negative stereotype about their behavior, it’s important for parents to teach their little ones to think about and consider others.

Although it’s true that many of the things they own are theirs alone, it’s healthy for them to understand that there will be situations in which they will have to share. They should learn to do so without feeling obligated, be flexible, and see the benefits of doing so.

It’s important to instill the value of kindness towards others from an early age. Practicing with other family members, such as cousins or with their peers at the park will help your little one to work on empathy and predispose them to share without feeling obligated.

7. Not fostering their own identity

Not having siblings at home with whom to share day-to-day life means that only children don’t have many other reference figures to imitate apart from their parents. Often, young children have difficulty establishing their own identity distinct from that of their parents.

It’s natural for children to try to imitate their parents, but in the case of only children, this can be intensified by trying to please them in everything. To prevent your little one from feeling pressure to be similar to you, encourage autonomy and self-awareness.

Avoid overly praising similarities and resemblances to you, and encourage them to discover their own interests. This will help them build an identity beyond their mom and dad.

8. Lack of privacy

Sometimes parents of only children can make the mistake of invading their privacy. Due to the concern or desire to be involved in all aspects of their lives, sometimes they don’t know how to respect their children’s space.

To avoid this mistake, it’s essential to grant and recognize the right of your child to have their own space and time and to make decisions, always within the limits appropriate for their age. This practice contributes to the development of greater autonomy and self-confidence.

The challenge of raising an only child without making mistakes

An Asian family with an only child sitting on a couch and smiling.

Only children and their families often have to face myths that label them as problematic, selfish, lonely, impulsive, capricious, and introverted. However, scientists find no major differences between people with and without siblings.

Psychologists argue that the ability to relate to others, extroversion, intelligence, autonomy, and self-control don’t depend on the size of the family. Personality development in children is a complex process influenced by many factors, including parenting and parental relationships.

There may be many challenges in raising an only child, but the size of your family shouldn’t be an issue that makes you hesitate in your parenting. Even if the lack of siblings favors the tendency to certain behaviors or attitudes, both positive and negative, these aren’t definitive.

If you take care to accompany the growth of your little one with responsibility and love, as well as a balance between freedom and limits, you’ll be able to enjoy your motherhood and offer your little one the well-being they need.

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.