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Family-dynamics

Having an only child

Why one can be fun

Two children is the common family size in the UK, but statistics show there is a steady rise in the number of parents opting to have only one child.

With nearly a quarter of the UK’s children now living without siblings, if you’re the parent of an - ‘only’ (whether by choice or through necessity) - don’t worry, a lack of siblings doesn’t mean your child will turn out to be selfish, or spoiled. Here’s what you need to know.

At a glance

  • One child families are more common nowadays
  • Arrange lots of play-dates and classes to ensure they learn to share and empathise
  • It's important not to overindulge them - it teaches them important lessons like waiting turns and delayed gratification
having-an-only-child

Why are there more single child families?

There are a multitude of reasons why families with only one child are on the increase. According to social psychologist Susan Newman author of - Parenting an Only Child, these one child families are on the up because:

  • People are having children later in life, which leaves less time to have another child
  • Often both parents work and so the cost of childcare becomes a factor
  • The divorce rate is hovering at 50% which means couples often split before they have another child.

Mum, Melissa 37 agrees, “For us money has been a major factor in our decision to not have another child. Part of me doesn’t want this to be a reason why we don’t have more children, but the reality is money is scarce, both of us have to work and we are only just keeping our heads above water now.”

Pros of having an only child

Though only children get a bad press, it’s just not the case that they end up maladjusted due to lack of siblings. Says Susan Newman, “People say that only children are spoiled, bossy, and lonely but there are have been hundreds of research studies that show only children are no different than their peers.”

What’s more, research also shows only children are likely to have better verbal skills and higher IQs, simply because their parents have more time to give them.

Only child Holly, 28 agrees; “I was an only child and didn’t grow up feeling hard done by. In fact, all my friends ever did was tell me they hated their brother/sister so I felt lucky that I was able to go home, be alone or have my parents attention whenever I wanted it.”

Cons of having an only child

If you decide to have only one child then make sure your child has sibling substitutes from whom to learn sharing, empathy and conflict resolution. This is because only children don’t have the benefit of the rough and tumble of sibling relationships, which teaches them these very things that help them do well in life. The good news is, it’s a problem that is easily solved by helping your child to forge friendships at:

  • Regular play-dates

  • Preschool

  • Nursery 

  • Music/activity classes.

Another con of being an only child may only emerge for your child as an adult. “My parents are now ill” says Fiona 35, “which means I do now wish I had a sibling to help deal with the issues associated with aging parents. It’s hard to shoulder the responsibility alone. But, then again, I know I am being silly because I am not alone. I have a husband and daughter and countless friends I can ask for help.”

How to parent your only child

As only children miss out on the opportunity to learn things kids with siblings learn, such as waiting their turn and sharing, ensure you show your child how to do this in your every day home life.

  • Don’t overindulge them. You don’t have to make up for an only child not having a sibling. Set limits and teach them how to delay gratification just as you would if you had two children

  • Nip their perfectionist streak. Many only children are verbally advanced and high achievers at an early age and eager for parental approval so be sure to let him/her know that your attention and love is not based on what they achieve.

At a glance

  • One child families are more common nowadays
  • Arrange lots of play-dates and classes to ensure they learn to share and empathise
  • It's important not to overindulge them - it teaches them important lessons like waiting turns and delayed gratification
Money is often a factor when it comes to deciding to stick to one child

Having an only child