The vagaries and vicissitudes of being an only child


Before ever I was aware of something called ‘The Only Child Syndrome’ I was being affected by it. My earliest inklings that something was amiss came from the incessant teasing and borderline bullying I endured from my multi-sibling cousins. It became so intolerable that I dreaded attending family events. Thanksgiving for me was a barbarous invasion of my personal space, Christmas an opportunity to be harassed, embarrassed, and vilified.


I was spoiled. I was a mamma’s boy. I was babyish. I didn’t stand up for myself. I was too shy. I didn’t like to play games.

The litany went on and on. I once overheard my Aunt telling my mother that I “sought to be the center of attention” because I jumped up on my mother’s bed during a hospital visit. I cried my eyes out over that but that’s part of the Only Child syndrome too, or so it is said.

In grammar school I never understood why the Nuns who were tasked with instructing the youth of my middleclass blue collar home town treated me differently than many of my classmates. It was because I was ‘going to be a problem because I was an only’.

So what comes first, the syndrome or the brand? Was I different because I was born into a single child home or because my family, teachers, friends, spousal units, and society believed that only children had a syndrome that caused them to be different.

I’ve done a wee bit of research on the subject and found that even today there are two distinct schools of thought on the subject that I’ll briefly outline here. First is a more benign account of the problem:

Article one:

Only Child Syndrome

Who knew that being an only child, which is something a child has absolutely no control over, could label this child a problem for society? The only child syndrome is a label given to people who do not have any siblings, or who were raised without any siblings. Some of the claimed only child syndrome characteristics include selfishness, an inability to share and difficulty making friends.

These claims are interesting since these characteristics are found in many other people who have one, two or more siblings, but according to an excerpt from The New York Times, researchers at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts decided to study school-aged children in the late 19th Century.

The researchers asked teachers to recall some of their students that were either peculiar or exceptional. The results included students such as those who were exceptionally strong, ugly, fearful, cruel and generous. When researchers examined that data, they found that many of these peculiar and exceptional students were only children.

As a result, researchers concluded that only children were much more difficult to raise than ones living in multi-children homes. According to G. Stanley Hall who was a proclaimed child expert and who reviewed the studies, being an only child was a disease.

A teenage only child can often exhibit the following:                               

  • Feel judgment from society, since parents are always watching
  • Need privacy, since an only child is comfortable spending time alone
  • Are sensitive to disapproval, since they do not like to let down anyone
  • Enjoy social attention
  • A responsible personality
  • Uncomfortable with conflict since not learning how to fight with others
  • A strong sense of achievement and success
  • A desire to obey the rules and do what is right
  • A reluctance to give in to peer pressure

MedIndia studied the Only Child Syndrome when they surveyed adult only children between the ages of 18 and 45. The results included responses such as:

  • Anxiety over caring for aging parents- only children have no one to share the burden with.
  • Bitterness over having to make difficult life choices based on their only child status- this can include how far to live from parents, how many children to have, even choice of life partners to avoid marrying an only child.
  • A feeling of being smothered by their parent’s overwhelming love and attention.
  • Experiencing a lot of repressed anger- not being able to express it for fear of upsetting or hurting parents.
  • Missing something unknown- only children can’t miss having a sibling because they’ve never had one, yet they can miss the idea of a brother or sister.
  • Having more than one child to avoid being a only-child family

Only Child Syndrome in Relationships

Contrary to the stereotypes, it is not difficult for an only child to have a relationship. Many only children take their eagerness to please and transfer it to their mate. This can create a wonderful partnership, if the spouse provides support and love in return.

Small concerns can arise in a relationship, but not out of spite from the only child; it is the only way they know. These can include:

  • Wanting alone time
  • Difficulty making joint decisions
  • Experiencing stress if they feels they aren’t succeeding
  • Still relying on parents
  • Strong independence
  • A personal agenda for life and goals
  • Inability to ask for help

These are not bad characteristics, but can cause friction with the wrong partners. However, in the hands of someone who loves and appreciates an only child and their “syndrome”, they can flourish and reach their goals standing next to the one who loves them.”

And here is the more classic view of the problematic Only Child. This is the interpretation of my condition that I grew up with.

Article Two:

What is Only Child Syndrome?                          

Only Child Syndrome is one of the most common behavioral syndromes found in kids. The syndrome actually gives it a negative connotation; however, it is not exactly the same as others. It is developed after birth and the syndrome is more of behavioral then biological. The Only Child Syndrome is obviously found in those kids who are the only child of their parents. The name itself suggests that the kids are different from the others. It may sound very simple that a child is only pampered and he or she behaves differently. However, it is not so simple indeed. The Only Child Syndrome can cause serious complications in the lifestyle of a child. However, it has some positive aspects too. The kids who are having Only Child Syndrome sometimes also called “Spoilt” or “Pampered” in non-medical terms.

Characteristics of Only Child Syndrome

The characteristics of the Only Child Syndrome are deeper then they appear. The kid with Only Child Syndrome tends to remain isolated from the crowd and rest of the people. It gives a huge impact on the childhood which then carries forward to the adulthood as well. The children face huge problems as they avoid mingling with others. It becomes a serious issue in adulthood and teenage. The child separates himself from the others and generally remains self-centered. However, the child may develop some good habits too due to the syndrome. The most common positive impacts are practicing healthy and hygienic lifestyle. But the negative list is so long that overcomes the positive side of the Only Child Syndrome sufferer.

Symptoms of Only Child Syndrome

It is very important for the family especially parents to identify and observed their kids if they are only child. The symptoms of the Only Child Syndrome can very well indicate the complications and they should take immediate action to eradicate the problem in order to provide their kid a healthy and normal life.

  • The kid has difficulties to mingle with others and make friends. He loves to stay alone and isolated.
  • He is very shy.
  • He generally talks to an imaginary friend and talks to himself.
  • The maturity rate is slower than the normal kids.
  • The kid does not share the problems and tends to be with it.
  • He is not at all confident.
  • He has serious issues with happiness and does not want to be happy.
  • He is way too exceptional and does not behave properly with others.
  • There is a lack of competitive attitude, and the child may be hostile or jealous.
  • They seek attention all the time and gets irritated if not given.
  • They are sometimes self-insufficient as well.
  • They are very self-esteemed and emotional.
  • They tend to bring prestige in everything.
  • Faces huge problems in doing team work and often remains incapable of performing it.
  • Does not want to share anything with others.
  • Faces difficulties live their life by own.
  • They do not develop family or friendship bond and remains isolated.

All the symptoms are very complicated and can interfere in normal life. If any of the symptoms is noticed in your kid then, it is best to address it as early as possible.”

What is apparent in both of these articles is that if a child is born into a siblingless family, he or she will be treated differently than a child from a multi-sibling household. Hopefully the parents of such a one will have the wisdom or presence of mind to understand that it’s not the child’s fault and minimize the damage that will be inflicted on that child.


This will be a daunting task but it’s the only mechanism that I can think of, based on my own experiences,  how to mitigate the effects of the ‘only child’ profiling that will surely occur throughout the child’s life. The parents must do all in their power to speak with the rest of the family at large to advocate for their offspring. This also must be done with every teacher throughout grammar school, until the young person is old enough to attenuate the perceptions of those they will encounter. Those who hold the opinion that Article One is an accurate representation of the ‘Only Child Syndrome’ you can allow to have access to your child. But those who hold with article two should be weeded out and kept as far away from your child as possible until such time that they can self educate themselves on this non-syndrome.

2 thoughts on “The vagaries and vicissitudes of being an only child

  1. Interesting indeed! I would have raised an only if my ex-spousal unit hadn’t insisted on having a second. So perhaps onlies intend to breed more ‘singletons’ and take over the world. I’m glad I was persuaded to do my part in raising siblings; I can’t imagine life without them both now.


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