An Only Child in a Family

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Examining the mental disorders of school children (13,131 boys and 12,304 girls), we found among our respondents in the city 17.3% of children who were an only child. They were equally represented among children of both sexes. In the country we came across a small number of only children; there were 15.8% among boys and 12.9% among girls. This percentage difference is statistically significant. It is clearly an expression of the fact that the rural population has on average more children than the urban population. There are fewer families in the country that are limited to one child. If they do, then it happens more often when they have a son. In the group of rural children we examined, we encountered more only children. This difference between the sexes is not significant, but it still exists. It seems, therefore, that the sex of the child influences the decision of the rural parents whether to have more children or to stay with one, if the number of children in the family is the result of a conscious decision of the parents and not other, objective factors. Rural parents will find it easier to decide on one child when they have a son than when they have a daughter. This reflects the remnants of patriarchy in country families. On average, they still value a male child more than a female child, because they see the boy as the heir of their property and the bearer of their family name.

There is no statistically significant difference between the sexes in the frequency of the only children in the city. This is probably an expression of the greater progress of urban parents who are less likely to give their son an advantage over their daughter than rural parents do. In the city, parents are guided by other motives than in the countryside when deciding on one child. Their struggle for a faster rise in living standards, the employment of women outside the home, cramped housing, the lack of a suitable replacement for the mother and other motives that are not as current in the countryside as in the city come into consideration. Sometimes spouses have only one child against their will, if, for example, after its birth, the mother has become infertile or the father has lost the ability to fertilize. But there are also quite subjective reasons that a married couple is limited to one child. Sometimes it is their comfort, avoidance of burdens and responsibilities, or selfishness and lack of interest in children. But it happens that the mother does not want the child from the husband in whom she is disappointed, or the emotional and sexual distancing of the partner has mutually removed the desire for children.

Their attitude towards that child, i.e. the upbringing they will provide, largely depends on the motive that led the parents to stay with one child. If, for example, the child is left alone despite the fact that the parents wanted more children, but for any reason could not have them, it is very likely that the parents will turn their grief of not having more children into the ultimate care for the only child. When a child is born “accidentally” and the parents are not interested in the child or do not agree with each other, there is a danger that they will be shaken and unfriendly towards the child. Children descended from an unloved partner may even be abused by the parent.

Already these differences in the attitude of the parents towards the only child warn of the unjustified prejudice that the only child is almost always spoiled. It is often claimed that the only child, precisely because it is the only one and extremely spoiled, is particularly vulnerable in mental development. Therefore, various neurotic disorders and behavioral disorders are more often expected in only children than in children who have siblings. However, our examination of the mental disorders of school children shows that the only children show even fewer disorders in their behavior than the children who are not the only ones in the family.

It is necessary, therefore, to abandon the prejudice about the greater threat of individuals with wrong mental development. It seems that in our environment, only children develop on average mentally healthier than children who have siblings. This is especially true for urban children, because we did not find a statistically significant difference in the frequency of behavioral disorders in only and children with siblings in rural children. The healthier psychological development of urban children in relation to children who are not the only ones in the family can be interpreted in different ways. First of all, it should be taken into account that only one child is usually had by parents with a relatively higher standard of living. It is known that along with the rise in standards, the average number of children in a family regularly decreases. The relatively high level of education and economic development is largely due to the above-average intelligence of people who have achieved such a social position. Since intellectual abilities are largely inherited, the children of such people also have a relatively strong intelligence. It makes them more mentally resilient and allows them to develop healthier personalities.

The relatively high standard of living of parents is often the reason they have only one child, because they want to maintain such a standard and raise it even more, ensuring it for their child as well. If they had more children, their standard would be compromised. But such a standard enables them to provide their child with favorable material conditions for proper mental and physical development. A higher economic standard also brings a higher cultural standard. It stimulates the mental development of the child, stimulates its intelligence and the development of its emotional reactions. More cultured parents have a higher general education than those at a lower level of social development; they know more about raising a child, so they can raise it in a more proper way.

When they have one child the parents usually deal with it more than with each of the larger number of children. More attention is paid to the individual, parents are relatively more interested in it and they are more careful in its upbringing. In addition, they usually think more about their parenting procedures and are more willing to seek advice and professional help if their child is not developing properly. These are all factors that contribute to a more positive psychological development of only children.

In the countryside, different motives encourage parents to limit their reproduction to one child. These are mostly economic interests of the family. In addition, there are biological factors, such as the so-called. secondary infertility of the parents, i.e., inability to conceive after the birth of the first child. It is probably more common in the countryside than in the city due to the higher number of unprofessionally performed births and abortions. The higher infant mortality rate in rural areas than in urban areas also contributes to limiting the number of children among rural residents.

Although the only children are on average in a slightly more favorable situation than children who have brothers and sisters, given the upbringing provided to them, so they are somewhat more likely to develop into orderly personalities, such children are still exposed to some specific dangers. When a child has no siblings, the parents are sometimes very prone to spoiling it. They are particularly motivated to do so if they had more children and died, or could not have more children due to an illness, or had a child only after years of infertility. In such a situation, the parents are afraid for the child and in fear of losing it, they protect and serve it too much, protecting it from any burden and risk.

Mothers who stayed with one child due to disagreement with their husband are also prone to spoiling the only child. Fathers who are disappointed in marriage, and in the fact that their wives no longer want to have children, are also sometimes inclined to spoil their only child.

Only children often develop into mature persons. It is a child who is too serious for its age, who in its conduct imitates adults too much, repeats their statements and views of the world, and seems to have matured too soon. The behavior of the mature child is the result of the wrong action of the parents with it. Proper mental development requires the company of other children. First they are brothers and sisters, and later other children in the neighborhood, in kindergarten, on the playground, at school. If the child has no siblings, it needs to replace them immediately with other children. But parents often keep their only child too close to them. They do this partly out of fear for it, partly out of ignorance, out of the belief that the child will learn more in the company of adults than among its peers, and partly out of excessive ambition for the child to be brought up particularly well, not to become “spoiled” among other children.

Then the parents do not let their only child into the company of other children, they lead it only among adults, so the child does not have enough opportunities to identify with its peers, to accept their mentality, to adapt to them and to be a child in the true sense; it identifies too much with adults. The lack of exercise in adapting and cooperating with one’s peers makes it difficult for such a child to create social contact with peers, both in its childhood and in adulthood. It hides its reduced ability to approach other people, to accept them and to come to terms with them under the guise of a certain contempt. Namely, man has a very close tendency to take away the value of what he does not know or is incomprehensible to him.