They are like that only

Being the only child is not always an isolating experience. — Photo: K. Gopinathan

Being the only child is not always an isolating experience. — Photo: K. Gopinathan  

Increasingly, the urban middle class is opting to have only one child. So, are only children pampered brats who cannot get along with their peers? Not necessarily so, discovers JULIANA LAZARUS.

WE INDIANS love huge families. That's why one of our oldest blessings had a hundred sons thrown in. But times have changed. The Great Indian Family has shrunk to such an extent that a single child is becoming increasingly common. But that has done little to shatter the myths of the spoiled, lonely, only child.

So what is it like to be an only child? Let's first give the only children their say.

Mithila B. Prasad, a Standard X student of Bishop Cotton Girls' School: "It's fun at times to be an only child. But I sometimes miss having a brother or sister to fight with. Having a brother gives one a feeling of security."

N. Apoorva, a Standard IX student: "I like being an only child. I don't feel lonely because my mother is a very good friend to me. When I return from school, I spend some time with her and then go out and play with my friends."

Sapna D.R., an only child and now a mother: "Though you are pampered and spoilt, there's loneliness when you grow up. Being with adults most of the time, you grow up faster. Once I grew up, most of my decisions are governed by the fact that my parents are alone. Even if I want to move out of the City, I cannot do it as there is no one else for them."

As always, there's a good and a bad side to the issue. The greatest advantage is that only children are rarely neglected. They do not have to compete for parental attention and resources. According to Dr. Chittaranjan Andrade, Additional Professor at Nimhans: "Since parents have more time for the child, the child gets more emotional and intellectual nourishment. The long-term gains in terms of self-confidence and intellectual growth can be considerable." But for the very same reasons, parents may pamper and spoil the child. "The child, therefore, may fail to learn the value of money and material goods, and may also take people for granted," Dr. Andrade says. Mithila agrees: "When parents lavish a lot of attention and money on you, too much can be too bad and you do end up being spoiled." But she's quick to add: "We are also taught values and know that we cannot expect the same kind of treatment outside home and must behave."

This is a viewpoint that's echoed by Tara Muniyappa, mother of a 19-year-old. According to her, parents of today are more aware about how children should be brought up. "We need to give them the best but we can do that without spoiling the child. For instance, we can tell the child about so many other deprived people and s/he should learn to share with complete strangers." It is also perhaps a little unfair to charge only children with being pampered brats. As Ms. Muniyappa points out: "In some communities, sons are far more pampered." And in most homes, it is the youngest child who grabs all the attention. Phyllis Farias's experience as a counsellor tells her that there are often more problems when there are two children in the family. She calls it the elder child syndrome. "The older child is invariably made to behave like an adult long before he is one. And the younger one gets ahead with his/her manipulative ways."

But not having siblings has its own problems. Says Dr. Andrade, "Since there is no sibling with whom to work or compete, the child may not develop good social skills such as sharing, caring, interpersonal transacting, and moderation of social behaviour. There is a greater risk of isolation."

That can be remedied to some extent by giving the children ample opportunities — like art classes and summer camps — to mix with others. However, Ms. Muniyappa admits that it can get lonely for the child during his/her growing years.

Says Sapna: "I wish there was someone I could unburden myself to, someone who could take over when there's a crisis."

A sense of loneliness pervades four-year-old Syona Thomas's world also. She loves it when her cousins come visiting but bawls when it is time for them to leave. But her father, Thomas Sampathraj, feels that every child is made differently and not all only children display the same characteristics. For instance, Syona is very independent — she insists on sitting alone in the merry-go-round while other children wail even while sitting with their wards. Syona even insists on returning from school alone.

"But my nephews, who are also single children, are different, adds Mr. Sampathraj. Which means you cannot assume that all single children exhibit certain tendencies.

Dr. Andrade sums it up nicely when he says: "Single children are different in different ways." Just like any other child.

And since only children are becoming increasingly common, isn't it time we got the picture right?

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