3 Needs of Only Children

The needs of only children may differ from those of children who grow up with more siblings. Find out what they are and how to deal with them.
3 Needs of Only Children
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

The conditions of the societies in which we live have made more and more families choose to have only one child. It’s estimated that about 28% of children grow up without siblings and this is an upward trend in many countries. However, despite the fact that it’s as legitimate an alternative as any other, we must bear in mind that the needs of only children are particular.

It’s undeniable that these children have a series of advantages due to the fact that they don’t have any siblings. For example, all the time and attention of their parents are invested in them.

In addition, as there are fewer members in the family, the economic resources available are usually greater and there’s access to a better quality of life. However, there are also a series of disadvantages that must be taken into account when educating the only child to keep these from impairing their development.

What are the needs of the only child?

A father helping his daughter pour orange juice.

Contact with other children

It’s true that during the first years, children benefit most from contact with adults. However, from the age of three or four, little ones leave parallel play and begin to interact with each other. A world of social possibilities opens up, which enriches them enormously.

Children who grow up with siblings have more opportunities to acquire and practice social skills such as sharing, taking turns, negotiating, or resolving conflicts. In contrast, only children don’t have the advantage of having those first playmates at home.

Therefore, it’s important to ensure frequent contact with other children and to ensure that they have diverse and varied opportunities beyond the socialization provided by the school. Extracurricular activities, spending time with cousins or friends outside of the classroom, or simply playing with other children in the park are very suitable activities.

Space to develop

When there’s only one child in the family, it’s common for all the expectations, concerns, and attentions of the parents to be turned over to them. Therefore, only children tend to establish close ties with their parents who, at times, can border on overprotection. If there are several children to tend to, it’s not possible to be aware of all of them every minute of the day. But in the case of only children, parents can become excessively intrusive.

To raise an only child, you need to keep in mind that they need to develop their autonomy and self-confidence just as much as any other child.

To do this, we mustn’t make the mistake of solving all their tasks, but rather teach them to carry them out on their own gradually. They need space to develop responsibility, make mistakes, and learn from them. If the attention they receive is excessive, you deprive them of this opportunity.

Healthy boundaries

Lastly, these little ones need to grow with healthy and consistent boundaries. As the only children in the home, parents often err on the side of being overly accommodating to them. They give them everything they want, they give in to their wishes, and there’s no time when these children have to confront other opinions or other people’s needs, as there are no other children.

Therefore, they can grow up feeling that they’re the center of the universe because at home, indeed, they are. The problem arises when, when going out into the real world, they collide with the fact that they have to learn to tolerate frustration, negotiate, and accept negatives. At school, for example, situations don’t revolve around them and they must be able to adapt. Therefore, let’s make sure to prepare them at home so that they know how to cope with this reality.

A mother and father sitting on the couch with their daughter.

The needs of only children aren’t so different

In reality, the needs of only children are very similar to those of any other child, only that sometimes, due to their condition, they’re forgotten. In a home with more siblings, it’s not as necessary to think about establishing rules for coexistence or limiting the care we provide to each child. It’s something that arises naturally from the very composition of the family.

However, when we only have one child, the need to raise them well can lead us to fall into excesses and not in the best way. So, let’s be aware when educating only children that they need to learn to relate in a world surrounded by equals and that we have to provide them with the necessary tools to do so.

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.

  • López, M. E., & Arango, M. T. (2014). El hijo único. Grijalbo.
  • Jiao, S., Ji, G., Jing, Q., & Ching, C. C. (1986). Comparative study of behavioral qualities of only children and sibling children. Child Development, 357-361. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1130591?seq=1

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