A contemporary of Sigmund Freud, Austrian psychotherapist Alfred Adler believed that birth order greatly shaped children’s personalities. According to Adlerian theory, only children take on the characteristics of both the firstborn and the youngest. Showered with attention by their parents, only children often expect to be universally admired. Yet they learn to rely on themselves, going through childhood alone and developing a sense of comfort in being alone. Consequently, children who lack siblings have traditionally been expected to display stilted social skills. However, parents can take active steps to overcome the challenges faced by the only child.
According to a Psychology Today interview with psychologist Susan Newman, author of “The Case for the Only Child,” only children often form deeper friendships than those with siblings do. The only child’s friends become sibling substitutes, and ties often last a lifetime. However, only children do not have the built-in social network that is provided by siblings. To ensure that your child has ample opportunities to make friends, sign him up for group activities. Expose your only child to a wide range of people and experiences, and allow him to choose those that feel the most comfortable.
On her website, Dr. Newman explores myths about the only child. According to her research, far from being dependent, most only children are self-reliant. However, this self-reliance does come at a price for social skills development. Because they feel competent and secure within themselves, some only children see friends as optional, rather than essential. Foster your child’s interconnectedness with others by having him join a team sport, try out for a play or participate in other activities that require the efforts of several people in order to succeed.
Although Dr. Newman dispels many commonly held myths about the only child, stereotypes persist. Only children often face challenges in school and social situations due to the assumptions that others make about their personalities. Common misconceptions state that only children are bossy, aggressive, selfish and spoiled. Only children often have to work twice as hard to demonstrate their own individual personalities. Help your child learn to recognize and overcome these perceptions by presenting the best version of herself to others.
Effects of Introversion or Extroversion
According to noted personality theorist Carl Jung, introverted people are more comfortable on their own and often find social interactions draining. Extroverted people prefer company, receiving an energy boost from their interactions with others. In “The Dilemma of the Only Child,” Northwestern University researcher Alissa Eischens examines the development of introversion and extroversion in only children. She found that only children are caught in a unique developmental situation. Whether they are naturally introverted or extroverted, only children must display the qualities of both. Natural introverts must overcome their loner tendencies in order to actively seek out friendships, yet natural extroverts must accept that people are not always around and learn to become comfortable in isolation.