Is Only Child Syndrome Real? Its Characteristics & Symptoms

Is Only Child Syndrome Real? Its Characteristics & Symptoms

Image: Shutterstock


Having a single child may be the trend today. And to have more than one child is the parent’s decision. However, parents who have one child, often receive flak due to the term called ‘only child syndrome.’

It is widely believed that a single child with no siblings does not grow up loving and empathetic. They could develop anxiety disorders or become spoiled. Is it true or a myth? Let’s learn more about ‘only child syndrome’ in this post and its signs.

Is Only Child Syndrome Real?

When we come across the term ‘only child syndrome’ or ‘a family with one child,’ we are often transported to China, known for its one-child policy, which was introduced way back in 1979 and is believed to be the origin of the one-child syndrome (1).

Multiple studies have been done on families with single children both in China and the West to understand the development of a child with and without siblings. Most of these studies state that compared to adults who grew up with siblings, those who grew up as single children showed differences in their social behaviors (2).

However, we must understand that the personality and behavior of only children and children with siblings are not dependent merely on the presence or absence of siblings. Multiple factors influence a child’s personality.

Though studies have explained social differences between single children and those with siblings, the stereotype that only children are selfish, lonely, or maladjusted is not conclusively proven (3).

Characteristics Of Only Child Syndrome

Some differences have been noticed in studies between children with and without siblings. Let’s have a look at a few of them. However, these characteristics may not hold for all single children (1).

1. Less social

Having a sibling opens one to the possibility of sharing and caring. But this does not mean that single children do not share. Since single children have siblings to share their life with during their formative years, they could become self-sufficient and less social too. While they may not be anti-social, they may have a smaller friend circle.

2. Lesser interaction with relatives

Siblings usually outlive parents and are present throughout one’s life. This makes them the longest relatives and close family to interact with in their entire life. Compared to people with siblings, there is a chance that single children without relatives may not have this bond and tend to spend lesser time with relatives or interact with them.

3. Ambitious

Only children may turn out to be more ambitious, sometimes even more than a first-born with siblings. This has been attributed to the fact that single children get the complete attention of their parents, who are more likely to notice and praise their achievements, which could benefit them.

4. Self-reliant and adjusted

Single children tend to be self-adjusting when it comes to emotions and their parent’s undivided affection makes them emotionally stable. However, these characteristics may change over time as they grow into adults.

5. Independent

Children without siblings can be more independent and tend to have more confidence than those with siblings. This arises from their time spent alone in their growing up years.

6. Higher IQ

Single children may have a higher IQ than those with siblings. It could be because they spent more time learning and engaging in extracurricular activities than socializing.

7. Difficult to manage conflict

A 2002 study stated that only children were less likely to be liked by their classmates and had a high chance of being victimized and aggressive in their peer group. This throws some light on how having siblings at home can help to manage a conflict better (4).

8. Less agreeable personalities

Though single children are creative, well-rounded, and intelligent, they tend to score low on agreeable personality traits. A 2011 study conducted in China stated that people who grew up in single-children families tend to be more narcissistic than those with siblings (5).

Having a single child or being the only child does not make them pampered or spoilt. It is common to see toddlers and preschoolers having trouble sharing or showing anti-social behavior, but that does not mean they suffer from the only child syndrome. Also, there are a lot of single children who are loving, compassionate, and empathetic like the ones with siblings.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. M Potts China’s One-Child Policy 2006;
  2. K Trent, G D. Spitze, Growing up without siblings and adult sociability responsibilities, 2012;
  3. T Falbo, The only child: A review, Journal of Individual Psychology; 1977;
  4. K M. Kitzmann et al.; Are Only Children Missing Out? Comparison of the Peer-Related Social Competence of Only Children and Siblings, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships;
  5. H Cai, V S. Y. Kwan, C Sedikides, A Sociocultural Approach to Narcissism: The Case of Modern China, European Journal of Personality;
The following two tabs change content below.

Dr. Meenakshi Maruwada

Dr. Meenakshi is a dentist and a passionate writer with over eight years of experience in dentistry and four years in writing. She started her career as a dentist with a dental chain in Mumbai and soon rose to lead the clinic as a Head Dentist. She then switched to working for two start-ups in healthcare, before beginning her own... more