Child Development With Siblings Vs. Only Children

By Angeliki Coconi
Selfishness crops up in most children, study says, not just in 'only' children.
Selfishness crops up in most children, study says, not just in 'only' children.

According to Social Psychologist Susan Newman Ph.D., there are no grounds to hold unfair prejudices against only children. Common stereotypes of children without siblings include the idea that they turn out spoiled, selfish or lonely. Newman stands to argue that without any solid evidence, claims like this should not be made. Instead, she suggests that a child’s development is dependent on individual traits and parenting style


The primary concern according to Newman, especially when it comes to the parents, is an only child’s potential loneliness. A common myth has formed which suggests that only children are more likely to form “imaginary friends” to compensate for a lack of companionship that siblings often offer. Psychology Professor Jerome Singer of Yale University proposes that this is not the case, as there is absolutely no scientific evidence. He states that the formation of an imaginary friend cannot be called “the property of the ‘only’ child, the isolated or the mentally handicapped.” According to Singer, forming an imaginary friend simply comes from the need to confront loneliness, fight a fear or deal with a weakness. All children naturally possess these needs.


According to a study carried out by Robert Downey, a researcher at Ohio State University, only children are just as popular with peers as children who have siblings. He asked 13,500 children from ages 7 to 12 to list a total of 10 friends each. Results showed that there was no clear correlation. On the whole, only children were just as popular or unpopular as children with siblings. The study was named “Good for Nothing: Number of Siblings and Friendship Nominations Among Adolescents.”


The case that only children are more self-absorbed is also questionable. Susan Newman makes the case that this is simply another unfair stereotype with no real evidence. She suggests that all children have the tendency to think that the world revolves around them. Psychiatry Professor Michael Lewis of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School states that selfishness is simply the “inability to think about and take the view of the people around you.” Throughout early adolescence, he claims that this is simply a developmental and hormonal process – sometimes the ability to focus on others just doesn’t exist.

Developmental Opportunities

One idea made clear by Kyle Good Ph.D. is that sibling conflicts actually function as a good “learning tool.” This means that there may be fewer social development opportunities for only children on account of the lack of siblings to clash with. This, Good explains, should not be a problem. If parents of only children allow their kids to observe minor parental conflicts and how they are handled correctly, there is no reason why the said child cannot learn in the same way.

About the Author

Angeliki Coconi started writing in 1999 with the theater comedy "Loop," produced in Athens. In 2001 she wrote and produced another comedy, "Modern Cinderella." In 2006 she was awarded a Master of Science in literature from the University of Edinburgh. In 2009 Coconi obtained the Postgraduate Certificate in Screenwriting from Napier University of Edinburgh.