Birth Order: The Only Child

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For anyone who has been reading this blog for about 1.5 years or more, you might faintly remember posts I started on The Birth Order Book by Kevin Leman. My book got borrowed a couple of times, but I am now reading it again and thought I would reinstate the posts.

This post on the “only child” will basically be information I find interesting from the book, but with little commentary. I don’t really know a lot of only children unless you count children under 3, which I don’t because the parents of these children plan to have more.

Characteristics of an Only Child
According to Leman, only children are much like oldest children. Here are some common characteristics:

  • Critical
  • Self-centered
  • Confident
  • Self-Assured
  • Articulate
  • On top of things
  • Perfectionists (Leman doesn’t think it is good to be a perfectionist)
  • Organized
  • Driver
  • List Maker
  • Logical
  • Scholarly

Ideal Self vs. Real Self
Leman talks about the idea of “ideal self vs. real self” in conjunction with only children. He says people will have a view of what they think others think of them and what they think they are like in actuality. He says these things rarely match up.

You might think people see you as organized but that you are actually unorganized. You might think people view you as a good housekeeper but you think you are always behind on housework.

These people know what they “should” be like, but also know they can never measure up. These people often need to take time to come to what is real because they often don’t give themselves enough credit

Making Characteristics Positive
A great thing about Leman is that he lists characteristics, then points out how they can be positive or negative. One example is confidence. Confident: This can mean you trust yourself and aren’t afraid to make decisions. But it can also mean that you are self-centered and afraid to try new things.

This book is quite interesting to me. I like to look at the characteristics charts at the end of each chapter and review them. As a parent, I can help guide my children to become the best version of the characteristics that will come naturally to them.

Are you/do you know any only children? How do these characteristics apply to you/them?


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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. Katy
    April 22, 2010 / 6:58 PM

    I'm an only child and this pretty much describes me to a T. (except maybe the confidence part, but that probably comes from feeling I can't measure up) I am slightly more laid-back than my parents (both extreme type A!), so they might have something to do with it. I even identify with the ideal/real self, but I hadn't heard of that before. My husband was an only child until he was 18 (surprise!), but he is much less like the listed characteristics (still very critical, articulate, and logical). I hope our 10mo DD will have brothers and/or sisters someday, though I feel a bit unprepared to deal with sibling dynamics. Thanks for including "the only child."

  2. dyhale
    April 22, 2010 / 7:04 PM

    I am 28 years old and an only child. I feel like most of the descriptions are accurate, but I don't think I am a perfectionist or self-centered… but who really admits they're self-centered? 🙂 My parents were very careful to not let me become a brat, and I never believed that the world revolved around me. Yes, I was spoiled by them and other family members because there were no other children close to my age, but they were not afraid to tell me "no." Most people who know me for a while are surprised to learn that I am an only child. In middle school and high school, adults told me I was mature for my age, and I took a lot of pride in that. I wish I had siblings, but being an only child allowed my parents to be present at all of my sporting and school events and not spread themselves too thin.

  3. Shari Smolchuck-Flora
    April 22, 2010 / 7:06 PM

    Thank you – this article was very interesting! I am youngest of three siblings, but with 8 years between my brother and I and then 11 years between my sister and I. Often I have been compared to an only child situation. I wouldn't change the spacing though! I am close with both of my siblings and enjoy having older, wiser ones to learn from and help pave the way in life.I have a three year old daughter and often get asked about when we will have another. If/when that happens, I am not worried about possible longer spacing because of my upbringing.

  4. Anna
    April 23, 2010 / 6:32 PM

    Thank you ladies for your comments. My husband and I have a 14 month old and have decided that we don't want to have any more, unless God gives us a surprise in the years to come. It was encouraging to read your comments and to see that it is possible to raise an only child that is normal and not a "brat". I was pretty sure I could do it but it's nice to hear people that have lived it. My DD has lots of cousins that live here so she'll grow up surrounded by family but won't have any of her own siblings. Thanks!

  5. Kari
    April 25, 2010 / 6:05 AM

    My husband is an only child. He very much fits into the characteristics listed in this post. I sometimes tell him he has "only child syndrom" when he exhibits certain behaviors like being unwilling to share. We have a 2 yr old son and I definitely want to have more but he's perfectly happy with one since he was the only one! I've also noticed teenaged kids who are only children tend to be extremely mature and able to get along with adults very easily.

  6. Plowmanators
    May 5, 2010 / 10:22 PM

    I appreciate hearing from you first borns! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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