My wife and I are discussing having a second child. Our first is an adorable little girl, normal in every way (well, except being the cutest girl in the world, obviously...), but taking care of her is still a full-time job.

I'm not sure I want more children. My wife wants one more, and she claims that it's very important for a child to have siblings. We are both middle children in our families, but I can't say I agree with her statement. Is there something to her claim? Do siblings play some vital role in a firstborn's psychological development?

asked 06 Oct '09, 21:34

Yuval's gravatar image

accept rate: 6%

It may be "important to a particular family" to have more than one kid, for one reason or another. (Also it may be important to a family to have only one child, especially if both parents aren't enthusiastic about having more.)

It may be "important to a particular child", inasmuch as that child may prefer siblings. But it's definitely not, in any absolute sense, "important" for a child to have siblings. (Certainly not in the sense that it's important to eat healthy food or go to school or have your parents read to you.)

I'm not aware that there are any proven long-term developmental or psychological benefit one way or the other. Anecdotally, I know plenty of adult "only children" and they seem as well adjusted as anybody else I know, as do the only children I know who are children. Remember that all "first children" are "only children" until the next one comes along, and during this period they don't seem particularly damaged or wanting to me, so I suspect that if the next one never comes, they won't suffer any particularly ill effect.

I know that as a parent of a planned only child, I'm pretty happy that I'll never have to yell "stop hitting each other or I'm going to pull this car over" or any other nonsense that comes (along with the joys, to be sure) with multiple children. An only child misses out on some things, but has a lot of other benefits (more attention from parents, less rivalry with siblings, etc.).


answered 06 Oct '09, 22:13

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accept rate: 14%


I have four children (5, 5, 4, 1), I was an only child for the first 12 years of my life, and I have observed plenty of situations everywhere in between. So this conclusion is one that I've mulled quite a bit.

Siblings are the best thing that can happen to a child if the parents can handle and want another child.

I think that having siblings helps one develop empathy, sharing, and compromise. These skills are vital for success in school and in life. I have seen plenty of only children who have difficulty relating to people their own age, who can't share, and who retreat into their own shells. Kids without siblings are more likely to be lonely and loners. Growing up, a sibling is a ready friend who's always around to play and talk to.

I'm not saying that it's not possible to gain those skills as an only child or that you automatically get them by having a sibling. But, properly guided, the child will get them more readily by having a sibling.

[EDIT: Here are some studies from Douglas Downey, which is the best resource I could find in limited searching on the Web while at work:

"When Bigger Is Not Better: Family Size, Parental Resources, and Children's Educational Performance"

"Number of siblings and intellectual development: The resource dilution explanation."

"Much Ado about Siblings: Change Models, Sibship Size, and Intellectual Development"

"Playing Well with Others in Kindergarten: The Benefit of Siblings at Home"

My take on all of these studies is that there's probably a case of diminishing returns at work. One sibling probably gets you a lot of benefits from social skills, two less so, three still less, and so on. Academically, an only child probably has an advantage.]


answered 06 Oct '09, 22:02

bbrown's gravatar image

accept rate: 21%

edited 06 Oct '09, 22:52

I am out of votes for today but +1 for a great answer.

(06 Oct '09, 23:58) Tammy ♦♦

I'll still be here tomorrow. :-)

(07 Oct '09, 00:54) bbrown

lol, yes I agree, great answer!

(07 Oct '09, 06:02) Sabrina

I am one of seven and many of my friends are only children, when they ask what was it like growing up in such a big family (people do regularly) I can only answer that it was perfectly normal as it was the only childhood I had. If I ask in return what it was like being an only child or one of 2/3 I get similarly blank looks, and rightly so. Your childhood was either happy or it wasn't plenty of the only children were happy, and plenty of the others were not, the only real pattern is the happy ones had loving parent(s)/carers.

The key thing is that the child is healthy and happy, in my experience the myth of the only child is just that. You generally can't tell if someone was an only child from their behaviour, just if they are now a jerk or not.

Having said that, looking back now I'm glad I was part of a larger family, there was always someone to play with and look out for you. I didn't realise it at the time but it probably also helped with conflict resolution and negotiation.
It has certainly made me appreciate a little time to myself, particularly when I come away from a family occasion back to my nice quiet house.


answered 10 Oct '09, 16:03

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Rich Seller
accept rate: 19%

I'm a mum to an only child. He's 9 and he likes being an only. He has friends over and gets on well with me and his dad. But we don't think we want another. The thing I struggle with sometimes is that when he's with his toddler cousin he's great with him and loves it, but says he loves to come home to calm. Am I doing him an injustice? I hate that part of me would like to do it to witness that stuff in my own home, but something stops me. This feeling in my gut that I don't want to change things, that he's happy and we like our space and time. Am I selfish?

I would love to hear from "onlys" that loved it even as adults because the negative stuff on the net is what causes doubt.


answered 03 Nov '09, 22:00

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accept rate: 0%

edited 03 Nov '09, 22:46

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Scott ♦♦

It's one of those things where either you have a sibling or you don't so you can't really "walk a mile in someone else's shoes". I haven't personally heard anyone say anything negative about being an only child.

(03 Nov '09, 22:47) Scott ♦♦

I'm in my 40's now so some of my friends are caring for elderly and infirm parents. A few of them are only children and they have said that they wish they had siblings to help carry the load. But you can take that with a grain of salt, because I have other friends who wish their brothers or sisters would help with their parents.

(02 Mar '10, 05:41) Neen
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Asked: 06 Oct '09, 21:34

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Last updated: 03 Nov '09, 22:46