General Question

girlofscience's avatar

What are the telling characteristics of an only child?

Asked by girlofscience (7532points) February 25th, 2009

People often ask me if I am an only child. When I say yes, they say they are not surprised.

Or, when people ask if I have any brothers or sisters and I say that I don’t, they say that it’s quite obvious I am an only child.

When I ask why, their answer is usually something like, “You just are.”

Haha. Um. Should I be offended?

What characteristics might I display that would make people assume that I am an only child (and be correct)?

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34 Answers

Triiiple's avatar

Funny, i get the same exact thing! Though i am a male, i always got that reaction.

I cant wait to see these responses, always cool to look from the outside in.

tonedef's avatar

I think there there aren’t any particular characteristics that definitely coincide with birth order- to use a phrase that geneticists employ, there is more diversity within groups than between groups. Perhaps you’re an independent person, and that’s why they think it’s obvious. But if you would have said that you were the middle child, they would have said, “Ohh! I can tell. You’re so modest,” or something to that effect.

Even Alfred Adler had problems with birth theory order. He said that the second child would be driven either to 1) try to excel and surpass the first child, or 2) would self-handicap so that he didn’t have to compete; two completely contradictory outcomes that really don’t predict anything.

janbb's avatar

Not saying that his applies to either of you, but one of my colleagues is very narcissitic, unreliable and demanding of attention. Whenever anyone calls her on any of her misdeeds, she says, “I can’t help it, I was an only child.” And she is over 60!

ubersiren's avatar

Some are obviously spoiled and self centered. Others are just very confident and self-motivated. That’s been my experience.

bythebay's avatar

I often find that it’s easy to spot an only child in a group; but I’m not entirely sure why. There are extensive studies referencing birth order and only children, but little empirical evidence to back them up.

I think only children and first-borns carry many of the same traits; perhaps they are just exacerbated in only children.

girlofscience's avatar

Hmm… of the characteristics discussed so far, I am somewhat narcissistic, somewhat self-centered, definitely confident, definitely self-motivated, moderately independent, maybe spoiled, NOT unreliable, and NOT demanding of attention, but I do like attention… I just don’t demand it.

cak's avatar

My daughter was 9 years into being an only child, then I had a son.

She relates better to adults, than kids her own age, she has friends, but is very comfortable around adults. It was just the two of us for several years, so she learned to function more like an adult, when it came to conversations. She seemed to do better in solitary play vs. group play; however, that has waned a bit. She gets the comment that she seems older than she is and that she is an “old soul.”

As far as the selfishness, she really doesn’t get that – maybe because I was broke, when we first started off – my ex left us in a world of debt. She is independent, self-motivated and creative.

Clearly, having a brother, she’s not an only anymore.

fireinthepriory's avatar

I’ve noticed that, in general, people who have siblings are a little more aware of others – they just have a natural tendency to think of the impacts on other people before they do something, whereas an only child never learned to do that because they never had to.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I have some only-child friends who are amazingly independent and free-spirited and this has benefited them to no degree in getting places with their lives/careers etc. However I have some only-children friends where this has resulted in adults who continue to act like spoiled, narcissistic teenagers and expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter.

Triiiple's avatar


“I’ve noticed that, in general, people who have siblings are a little more aware of others – they just have a natural tendency to think of the impacts on other people before they do something, whereas an only child never learned to do that because they never had to.”

Every girl ive dated must be a single child, because when they smash my heart they sure as hell dont care about that impact =p.

bythebay's avatar

Only children are one of the fastest growing segments of our population. Here’s an amusing compilation of only children:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Ansel Adams
Steve Allen
William A. Anders
Hans Christian Anderson
Christina Applegate
Lance Armstrong
Lauren Bacall
Burt Bacharach
Jeff Bagwell
John the Baptist
Candice Bergen
Frank Borman
Bill Bradley
Carol Burnett
Mark Burnett
Laura Bush
Ada Byron
Roy Cohn
Chelsea Clinton
David Copperfield
Walter Cronkite
Leonardo da Vinci
Sammy Davis Jr.
Robert De Niro
Nick Faldo
Gerald Ford
E.M. Forster
Indira Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Rudolph Giuliani
Tipper Gore
Cary Grant
Alan Greenspan
Teri Hatcher
William Randolph Hearst
Lillian Hellman
Anthony Hopkins
Gayle Hunnicut
Samuel L. Jackson
Shirley Jones
Tommy Lee Jones
James A. Lovell
China Kantner
Alicia Keys
Ted Koppel
Lenny Kravitz
Charles Lindbergh
John Lennon
Phil Lynott
Jesse Metcalfe
Joe Montana
Iris Murdoch
Isaac Newton
Al Pacino
Gregory Peck
Matthew Perry
Cole Porter
Natalie Portman
Ezra Pound
Enoch Powell
Elvis Presley
Lisa Marie Presley
Daniel Radcliffe
Nancy Reagan
Condoleezza Rice
LeAnn Rimes
Eleanor Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Richie Sambora
Jean Paul Sartre
Brooke Shields
Frank Sinatra
Kirsten Smith
Danielle Steel
Barbra Striesand
Charlize Theron
John Updike
Betty White
Robin Williams
Tiger Woods

fireside's avatar

I am an only child and hope that people would describe me more like cak’s daughter than like janbb’s coworker, but i guess I don’t really know.

Some of the most self-centered people that I have known were not only children and simply were raised in a competitive environment where they felt they had to prove themselves.

dragonflyfaith's avatar

I think it depends more on the way the parent raises their only child. Sure if the parents tends to spoil the child more because it’s their only child, then of course the child will show signs of being spoiled. I think parenting style changes depending on how many children there are.

I am an only child but rather than being spoiled, my father was inactive in my life. He was also disabled and unable to work therefore money was tight and they could not afford to “spoil” me with gifts. As a result I’ve always treasured what I have and have never expected anything. My husband knows not to spend a lot of money on me, because I worry more about the money spent than whether I’m entitled to it or not.

Johnny_Rambo's avatar

He wont share his Power rangers ?

Grisson's avatar

I’m not an only child. My father was.
I married a woman who had a 12-year-old child from a previous marriage, so she was an ‘only-child’ for a significant period of her development.

My take on it is that children who have no siblings to deal with are forced to socialize with adults more than the rest.

Therefore they often tend to speak and act more maturely than they really are and behave sensibly around people who are older than they are, but may have difficulty dealing with people younger then they are.

This can lead to a misperception that they are spoiled because they often act older than they are in some respects and yet they really are still children.

As adults. I suppose that those who have siblings catch up with the adult-to-adult relationships. The only children figure out how do deal with children when they have their own.

wundayatta's avatar

What are the consequences of having the entire attention of two parents for the first 18 years of your life? Well, you might think the world revolves around you. When you get to school, you’ll have difficulty relating to others around you (unless they sent you to preschool, and even then), because you are not used to sharing, and you are not used to playing games together. You’ve always related primarily to adults, who want to teach you things instead of playing with you.

As a result of that parental attention, you will, most likely, be smarter, and considered “gifted.” You will be more focused on academic stuff and serious stuff than kids around you. You will never be a part of the crowd. You stand out too much, and you don’t see why you should.

You will expect to have the final word on things when you are with peers or subordinates. The only people you really listen to are people who you consider to be wiser than you (usually older, too). You soon feel you are smarter than your teachers, and take on an air of haughtiness or superiority. You talk authoritatively. You are not sensitive to the needs of others, like most of the rest of the kids.

On the playground, this translates to the kid with his nose in an Asterix book, while everyone else is playing hopscotch or kickball. If he does play kickball, he tells everyone else what to do. If he doesn’t get his way, he sulks. He’s the one who has to direct the other kids to the next activity. If he runs up against another strong-willed boy, they will have a love-hate relationship. Both will like each other because the other is interesting, but they will not be able to establish a pecking order. If one can read Harry Potter in first grade, the other becomes a gymnast who is constantly demonstrating his skills.

The examples I give are purely fictional, and have nothing to do with any real persons or events.

Grisson's avatar

@daloon A lot of that would depend on the parents, wouldn’t it?

If the parents give the child the impression that the world revolves around him or her, then the child might behave that way.

Why would an only child have expectations of having the final word with its peers? My point is that the child is likely to think of his or her parents as the closest thing to a peer they’ve got. So if the parent lets them have the final word, the you are right. If not… well then the child will have to adjust to the ‘peer’ thing when he or she reaches school age.

dragonflyfaith's avatar

@Grisson My point exactly. Although, I was an only child, I did not have the entire attention of two parents because my father was not active in my life (though he was in the home). Parenting makes a big difference.

wundayatta's avatar

Damn! Foiled by individual cases again. When, oh when will a guy be able to make a generalization again? Huh?

dragonflyfaith's avatar

Gah! People with user names like daloon are always so… ;)

Grisson's avatar

@daloon “No generalization is worth a damn, including this one.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

wundayatta's avatar

Ya’ll need to go back to your statistics classes. With statistics, you understand exactly what the general tendency is, but you also have a great appreciation for the amount of variance from that tendency. You also get an appreciation for how one data point, or even a dozen, can be quite uncharacteristic. Never make a generalization based on one point of data. No matter what Holmes said, I’m stickin’ with that one!

Anyway, I’m standing by my original post. You all can be happy and not bother to make any attempt to distinguish onlies from siblings, on average, but I find my predictions tend to be more accurate than most people’s. So much so, that I could be a psychic reader if I wanted.

Now go back to what you were discussing. I’m going to go count gender, age, income, geographic location, subject preference, and number of posts on fluther. When I’m done, I’ll know you better than you know yourselves! ;-)

Baloo72's avatar

@daloon I think you hit the nail on the head with your first post. I’m with you on that one. from my own experience as an only child. . . cough, cough

wundayatta's avatar

@Baloo72: I’m glad it sounds about right to one “only.” I wonder if it sounds familiar to others. Thanks for the feedback, Baloo72.

BTW, my father was an only, and my mother and father-in-laws were onlies, and one of my son’s closest friends is an only.

Zen's avatar

What siren said, and also @bythebay included an interesting list – note how many actors/comedians/ artists that feed off of and require attention. It goes hand in hand, but isn’t always a negative thing. It’s just a thing.

SundayKittens's avatar

I did a sweet research project about birth order in grad school. Only children, it seems, are superior in every way. IT’S SCIENCE!!!!!
Just kidding, but read The Birth Order Book. It is awesome.. Also…I will NEVER allow my future child to be an only.

mmmkay's avatar

We’ll i’m an only child and i hang out with other only children (guys and girls) and noticed a couple of things that we had in common.

1) we’re very self motivated because we know we have to be. Our parents rely on us to create a future for the family. If not, we’re screwd. hah.
2)We don’t have siblings who can back us up if we’re in trouble so we’re pretty responsible. Plus we hate seeing our parents disappointed in us.
3) Although I am not, a lot of my friends who are only children tend to be high maintenance and are very critical with the quality of the things that they buy. They never settle for less than perfect. Me and parents grew up without much money, so I learned to spend less and I could care less about BMWs or designer bags.

The one thing that i did notice about this though… is that they all save up money or get good grades to get these nice things. It’s not like it gets handed to them when asked, but it’s like a reward system. They get rewarded through grades, work, etc. So although it seems like they always have nice things and are spoiled, it’s because they worked for it in some way. (i’m not saying that they all worked really hard for it though).
I think everything just depends how you were raised because obviously, even if i do have a lot off friends who are only children, we are all different in some way or another.

Well that’s what i noticed. correct me if i’m wrong =]

ratherbecamping's avatar

My husband and I are parents of a 7-year old only child. Having only one child wasn’t by choice. I had medical issues so we can’t have another child. We have considered adopting, but are happy with our small family. Others decide to only have one child. And that’s fine. Eveyone’s decision is so personal! We haven’t had any real concerns and are very thankful we were able to have a child in the first place. She’s well-liked at school and has a great sense of humour.

She’s very involved in sports with other kids and we arrange playtimes with her friends and cousins as often as we can. That can be a challenge. There isn’t always another child for her to play with or talk to at home, so we really have to make that effort. We’re also making an effort not to spoil her, but she’s definitely used to having her things to herself! That can be an issue when other kids play with her things. I don’t feel she’s spoiled with material things. Spoiled with love, perhaps! She tells us she doesn’t want this or that because it’s too expensive. Our daughter used to ask about having a brother or sister, but she knows that we can’t. She’s a very content kid, so we’re very thankful. I’m not sure what challenges lie ahead as she grows older, but we’re willing to take it all on.

One of my challenges is how to react when people who hardly know me ask, “Why would anyone every decide to have only one child?” Or they ask, “When are you having another child?” That is a very innocent question, but I’ve stopped asking others the question, because I know that answering it isn’t always easy. I really don’t feel like telling everyone that it’s not always be choice and explaining my medical issues. The in-laws often say (infront of our daughter), “Oh the poor child. She has no brothers or sisters to share with or play with.” They make it sound like we’re doing our daughter a huge injustice. Then I feel bad, but don’t let it get me down. Any suggestions on how to react to these comments or questions?

ratherbecamping's avatar

I got a little side-tracked! It was my first post. These are characteristics of my only child. Of course, they’d be different for each child, depending on parenting, personal interests, etc.

My 7-year old daughter is independent, determined, athletic, funny, comical, loving, self-motivated, strong-willed, and very creative. She often comes up with very creative projects and ways to solve problems on her own.

gemiwing's avatar

I’m an only child and the one sure-fire way I know to spot others like me is to play a ‘sibling game’. Things like ‘I’m not touching you’ and the favorite ‘punch buggy’. We tend to not participate and just give the other person a look akin to ‘Do you lose your mind every Tuesday- or just this one?’.

kbugRN's avatar

People seem to assume that an only child will be laden with lots o parental attention. Not so in my case, nor was i spoiled. But what i have found as i have grown older is how lonely it is being an only child. My father has passed away, it is just my mom and I and some extended family who live spread out all over America. Once my mom is gone, it will be just me. My kids don’t have any aunts or uncles or cousins. I live in a small town that seems to be filled with large families with big holidays. I feel sad that I can’t give them that. being and only child has burdened me my whole life. i wouldn’t wish it on any one.

JTSTs2003's avatar

While I have 2 older half sisters, and 2 younger half sisters, I grew up an only child until Junior High and THANK THE LORD!!!!! While having siblings is sometimes nice & heartwarming…most of the time it’s just a lot of personality clashes & (for now, I’m conflicted) it’s more trouble than it’s worth – I’m happier on my own. My son is 7 and an only at the moment. I can’t decide if I want another or not. I see him stare out the window at the neighbor kids playing w/ their brothers & sisters with that look of longing that I very well remember…makes me sad sometimes…

He can have nicer things (sorry to say for those who think money should be no consideration – IT IS – and it FEELS GOOD to be able to buy him a $50 pair of rainboots rather than only getting 2 pairs of shoes a year like I did when I had to live with my siblings!)
I am closer to him/have a wonderful relationship.
I can give him more attention.
He’s more independent.
He’s more mature.
His vocabulary is incredible.
We can take more expensive & interesting vacations/trips I wouldnt be able to afford otherwise.

He desperately wants a bro/sis, ever since he could talk – often complains he’s lonely.
I loved having him, and I’d want to have that experience again & raise another little person.
Since we arent close to any other family, if something happens to me, he’s on his own.
When I was in school, when everyone else had their bros/sis’ to rely on, I was alone. That always bothered me.
He’s sneaky as hell – too smart for his own good from finding ways around adult’s rules instead of keeping busy tricking his siblings (u know…deception, on a smaller scale lol).

I think it depends on the child. Me – I am introverted, happy to be alone. Him – He is an extrovert, hates being by himself.

So we have a kitten now. It helps. :P

jann's avatar

I’m an only child raised by my mother after my parents divorced when I was very young. I had a few close friends growing up (one I still consider a very close friend) and a few cousins who were close to my age that I saw frequently. Most of my cousins were quite a bit older than me and my mother was 43 when I was born, so her friends were mostly her age or older. I realize that all these factors influence the results of how I turned out as an adult. I must say that as I’ve gotten older I definitely recognize the “only child” in myself. My husband has 7 siblings and this has proven to be quite a challenge for me and has gotten more difficult as the years go by. I most definitely relate better to older adults most likely due to the fact that my mother and her friends were so much older than me. I tend to be a tad controlling and critical of others at work and in the family. I try not to, it just happens! I love my alone time and often sneak off during family events to have some peace and quiet. My husband says I’m unsociable and I say no it’s an “only child thing”. He doesn’t get it. There are times when his whole family is together, which is close to 45 people, and I feel completely alone and lonely in the same room with all of them. Why is that?? I still sometimes feel left out after all these years. Anyway, I do think there are huge differences between only children and children with siblings. Everyone’s personality has to be influenced by all those little differences in our lives growing up. My husband and I have one child, a daughter, and she exhibits a lot of the same traits as me, but she has 20 cousins, most of whom are very close to her in age and they see each other many times a year and of course they communicate much differently than when I was growing up. They have cell phones and facebook now. She thrives on her “cousin” time even though she definitely exhibits only child characteristics. She and I actually get into “only child” battles over the dumbest stuff. It’s really sad!

Bunnyphoo's avatar

I am almost 70 years old and an only child. Life is the great leveler and as the years go by everyone learns to get along. socially. Don’t worry about an only child. My life has been like most… great and tragic. One good thing as one gets older…an only child has learned how to be alone and does not get lonely. You can be your own best friend and entertain yourself nicely. If I were raising just one child I would advise you to make sure they are honest in every way. Tell them to be a sincere person…who they are and be happy.

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