They are selfish, egocentric, spoiled and dependent on their parents. How true are these beliefs? Here are some guidelines for an affective upbringing that enhances their strengths.
Medical advisor Clara Isabel Vélez
Clinical psychologist, perinatal, specialist in Human Development Management
During the last four decades, national surveys on demographics and health in Colombia have shown a downward trend regarding the number of people per family. While in 1978 the number was 5.48 people, in 2010, the index had decreased to three.
This reduction in the fertility rates per woman (in 2016 it was 1.8, according to the World Bank) has increased the number of only children, in contrast to what was seen until the middle of the last century when the average number of people per family was 8.
This cultural and demographic change in such a short period of time, in the words of clinical psychologist Clara Isabel Vélez, has caused some popular beliefs about only children, which may or may not be true, depending on their parents’ upbringing.
What beliefs? “That they are not autonomous, that they are selfish and spoiled, attached to their parents, that they do not follow the rules and do not share. A number of these characteristics could also be found in big families,” warns Vélez.
Only children, not having a similar reference around, usually attract their parents’ full attention in every sense: they receive love through affection and gifts, but they also show “the worst” of mixed emotions, such as frustration, bad temper, calls to attention, or absences due to work commitments.
Parents, comments Clara Isabel Vélez, should find a balance that allows them to give their child the time and resources they need and want, but without excess. “This way, they will be taught that there are things that they need to get by themselves so they can learn to face daily life situations, obviously with their help,” states the psychologist. She suggests that the parents should try to ensure that their child has opportunities for external socialization, for example at school, extracurricular activities, and friendships where they live to stimulate this aspect.
Ease of social interaction, explains Vélez, can be an ability that only children develop faster than members of big families, and in this, parents are key.
Another natural ability is being independent. When they are doing things alone, such as studying or playing, parental accompaniment is very important – they can give guidelines at home, for example teaching them to share toys with conditions or doing homework alone but with constant guidance.
“Being an only child is not good or bad, it is a circumstance of life that you must confront in the best way, with your parents’ help,” states psychologist Clara Vélez.
Recommendations for effective parenting
Start playing board games or role playing where one rule is sharing an action or item.
Avoid trying to replace time you are absent with gifts. It is best to do this by playing games or having conversations.
With an only child, perhaps there are more financial resources available, however, try to keep a balance, as this can send the message that by asking for something they can get whatever they want.
Grant them the right to be wrong. Do not try to do their homework for them. As adults, they may have difficulty solving problems on their own.
Avoid overprotecting them. There are parents that think that taking them to a daycare means they are going to get sick more often from being in contact with other children, since at home they do not have anyone to share viruses and bacteria with, but this is an essential part of their education.
In the end, it does not matter how big a family is, you have to be conscientious and spend time with your children, whether there is one or ten.