In today’s society, only children make up about one fifth of the family population. Although the fraction may seem small, it is double what it was about 30 years ago. During the 19th century, the idea of an only child was fairly frowned upon, especially by psychologists. Granville Stanley Hall, a popular American psychologist and the first president of the American Psychological Association, claimed that being an only child was a “disease in itself”.
Though many stereotypes of only children compared to children with siblings may be myths, there is still a significant difference between the two groups. A survey by 8forty of thirty Burnaby high school students asked respondents to give 3 words that describe their personalities. Some recurring answers of children with siblings were: caring, reliable, honest, outgoing and hardworking. Where as only children used words such as: shy, quiet, introverted and nice.
There’s a big stigma around only children and their personalities. The only child persona is often thought of as spoiled, self-conceited, lonely, selfish and oversensitive. Although a lot of research has supported this persona, it’s only partially true.
Due to the interest in the differences between only children and those with siblings, a lot of research has been made to further our understanding of the topic. One research study in particular, led by Jiang Qiu, a psychology professor at the Southwest University of Chongqing, confirmed that there are significant differences between the brain structures of children with siblings and only children which affects their personalities. The differences involve flexibility, imagination and planning. As well as agreeableness and emotional & mood regulation. The study says that “only children displayed no differences in terms of IQ, but higher levels of flexibility—one measure of creativity—and lower levels of agreeableness than kids with siblings.” The group of researchers made hypotheses to explain their findings, saying that due to only children receiving full attention from their parents, they were more encouraged to be independent and to boost their creativity.
Many only children that 8forty surveyed claim they relied on themselves and their creativity when it came to entertaining themselves and learning. When asking about how people entertained themselves, some common mentions from only children were toys, music and creating scenarios. One person stated, “I could entertain myself with literally anything”. Others pass time with reading, art and hanging out with friends and family. People with siblings, on the other hand responded by citing watching TV, playing video games, doing sports and playing with their siblings. Some other given answers were: watching YouTube, playing board games, exploring forests and climbing trees. While those with siblings seem to often rely on technology as a pass time, only children relied more on themselves and their creativity. Those with siblings also often picked social pastimes such as board games and exploring.
Children with siblings are linked to more social comfort, better collaboration skills and better reliability. They’re usually more skilled in handling chaotic situations due to growing up in more dysfunctional households. In a study in 1983, it was concluded that children with siblings, particularly children with opposite-sex siblings, were more comfortable socializing with a person of the opposite sex than those without siblings. Tessa Shull, one of the bloggers on Kansas City Moms Blog, says that “my [her] friends with siblings may not have been as creative but were much more comfortable socially and better at relating to others. Because they grew up with someone constantly around to socialize and interact with, it makes a lot of sense that while there may not be as much inner reflection there is a lot of social and personable growth.”
Though bigger families are often linked to happier households and happier children, the truth to that lies on the quality of the relationships rather than the quantity as bad sibling relationships can lead to emotional trauma in that person’s future.
In the survey, when asked “When seeing someone around you being taken advantage of or teased, do you feel affected? How?” Those with siblings showed far more care in how they’d assess the situation rather than the only children. A couple examples of the answers of children with siblings were very straight-forward, such as: “Ya I hate that. Intervene immediately,” ”I punch em” and “I make whoever is teasing them stop.” However, there were also many answers expressing a sense of understanding and deep empathy:
- “I feel very affected since I would hate to see someone I care about hurt, I would certainly help the person and I would defend him/her and show them what’s the right thing to do,”
- “Yes, because I have personally been taken advantage of and teased for a good portion of my life and I see it as a wrong way to treat a human being for absolutely no reason as we are all equal and should be treated equally”
- “I would try my best to assess the situation. I would try and stand up for the person, because nobody ever deserves to be taken advantage of”
- “yes I do because if I were in that situation, I would feel traumatized”.
Although only children showed sympathy in their answers, they showed less initiative in taking control of the situation. Many answers received from only children simply claimed they “felt bad.” They often said things such as “they don’t deserve it” or “they aren’t able to stick up for themselves.” One person also showed a worry for themselves when answering the question by saying: “I feel sad for them, hoping it doesn’t happen to them again or ever happen to me.”
When growing up with siblings, the order of birth is a crucial aspect that differentiates personalities. Research done in Sweden states that first-born children have many more advantages such as in education levels, salary earnings, health and personality characteristics. In a standardized psychological evaluation taken by 18-year-old Swedish males, it was established that those with lower scores were later born children. Higher scores signified that they were “emotionally stable, persistent, socially outgoing, willing to assume responsibility, and able to take initiative.” First-born children often end up in high-status manager positions that require a lot of social interaction and leadership whereas later born children end up being self-employed. It’s fairly known that the older child tends to be more responsible and reliable. Younger children however, express more rebellious behaviour, which is often due to the change in parenting style.
“Middle children syndrome,” though it hasn’t been proven, explains the tendency for middle children to feel excluded and overlooked in comparison to their older and younger siblings. Middle children are said to be great leaders, negotiators, leaders and lovers. Due to always being in the middle of disputes, they tend to be great listeners and are able to see different sides of an argument as well as keep their patience. They also present the best collaboration skills because of being born having to share space, attention and time. However, since they receive less attention from their family, they often turn to friendships and relations to compensate and they possess very genuine and intimate relationships with others. However, the lack of attention from home often means their self-esteem and egos rank lower.
Siblings hold our childhood and our growth to adulthood. They carry our secrets, our struggles and our victories. When asking one of my peers about how she thinks having siblings influenced her, she said: “if I didn’t have three brothers, I don’t think I would be as tough as I am now because we always fight, which isn’t always a good thing, but I love having siblings because we all share common interests and we relate to each other.”
Siblings are some of our first and closest friends. As one of my peers stated, “it’s like having three at home best friends.” She wouldn’t trade it for the world.
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