The only child syndrome

Saturday February 2 2013


Initially, I was fine with him growing up alone but he has started asking for a brother. I worry that he misses out on having a play-mate or that he would be left all alone should we pass on,” says Rebecca, a mother of a six-year-old only child by choice.

Rebecca’s son already has a had time sharing toys with other children and she fears that he may be spoilt. Owing to the harsh economic conditions and women marrying later in life, the size of the average Kenyan family is shrinking and the one-child family is increasingly becoming popular.

Parents of only-children grapple with special challenges.

For Seleiyan, a mother of a seven-year-old only child, most of the difficult issues that she has had to deal with are external.

“We intended to have a second child, but it never happened even after years of trying. People say I’m selfish for denying my child a sibling.”

According to Dr Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author of The Case for the Only Child, in order to raise a happy, well adjusted only child, it is important that the parents reconcile themselves to their position and become comfortable with that situation, especially if they had hoped to have more children.

In her view, giving in to the pressure of family and friends and obsessing over the number of offspring may send the message to your child that he/she is not enough for you.

Way forward

Psychologist and childcare expert Grace Karani discredits that age-old notion that only children turn out to be lonely and sad. This, she says, is because children today are socialised at an early age from playgroups and kindergartens.

Nevertheless, if not encouraged to be social, an only child may have more problems getting along with others in the outside world. As a parent of an only child, prepare yourself to weather questions from outsiders.


You can fill the sibling gap by making your home child-friendly and inviting children from the neighbourhood. This way, your little one will never lack companions. On the flip side, seeing as they will spend a lot time in your home, you will have to actively participate in raising other people’s children.

Alternatively, if you have the right support system and are financially capable, adoption is another option of giving your only child siblings and helping a child in need of a family.