It was once thought that having siblings was a must for childhood happiness, but new research is showing that might not be the case. Malia Jacobson from ParentMap shares more.
Why is it that the single-child family is becoming the new traditional family?
It used to be difficult to find an only child—most people knew of maybe one or two, but it seemed that everyone had siblings. That’s not the case anymore. Only children are everywhere.
Family size has been declining for the past 50 years, from a peak of 3.7 children per women in 1957 to around 1.9 children per woman today.
And the percentage of single-child families has doubled in the past 30 years. Today, over 20 percent of families have only one child.
Your article looked at whether children need siblings. What did you find?
The short answer is no.
Research has shown that only children fare just as well, and in some cases, even better than children with siblings.
Social competence has traditionally been an area of big concern for parents of only children. They want to make sure their child will be well-socialized.
A recent study of over 13000 middle-schoolers found that any differences in social competence between only children and those with siblings disappears by 7th grade. In middle school and beyond, only children are just as popular as those with siblings.
Another study of almost 25,000 grade-school children found only children have an academic edge over children with siblings. As family size increases, academic achievement goes down.
That study author, Dr. Douglas Downey from The Ohio State University, went so far as to say that siblings are “good for nothing.”
And a study of adult only children found that adults who grew up without siblings are not at a social disadvantage. They’re just as socially competent as those who grew up with siblings.
Is there an advantage to growing up with siblings?
Absolutely. Research does show that only children fare just fine. But the vast majority of families still have more than one child. Fortunately, there are some advantages there, too.
Having siblings provides a built-in lab where children can develop empathy, compassion, and learn how and when to stand up for themselves.
Having siblings also gives children plenty of practice with conflict, which can actually be a good thing.
Research shows that siblings fight quite a bit—about once every 10 to 20 minutes.
But conflict helps children to develop important skills, like emotional regulation, joint problem solving, and negotiation.
Ultimately, children can thrive in any size family. “The biggest influence on how your kids turn out is your parenting, not how many kids you have,” is a quote from the article, from Dr. Susan Newman.
Model Conflict Resolution. Only children don’t have as many opportunities to learn from conflict, because they don’t have siblings to clash with. Parents can help their only-child learn conflict resolution by allowing the child to watch the parents resolving small conflicts together.
Encourage Extended Family Bonds. Only children can gain a valuable sense of identity by forming close bonds with cousins, grandparents, and other members of their extended family.
Ensure Educational Access. Research shows that children in larger families can be at an academic disadvantage. For with siblings, access to educational materials and parental help with homework is vital. Make sure that children have access to a computer for homework, and that parents set aside time to help each child with schoolwork.
Prioritize Family Play. Parents should not assume that only children will always entertain themselves, and that siblings will entertain each other. It’s vital to play together as a family. Parent-guided interactions that take place during family play help both only children and siblings gain emotional understanding, behavioral regulation, and empathy.