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I was surprised to read an educational researcher’s email introduction with a link to an article she wrote about understanding child breakdowns and reactions to different situations. Amy Webb, Ph.D. opened her email with questions … and answered her:
“Do you remember a time when your child reacted completely unexpectedly to a situation? Maybe a small scratch on the knee caused a half-hour meltdown? You may have asked yourself: why did she react so dramatically?
“I clearly remember one of these situations. It was one of the first times I took my eldest son to a park as a toddler. He was still stumbling around trying not to trip on his own two feet. I thought he was hesitating . ” interact with new children, especially since he was an only child at the time. “
It explicitly implied that only children are shy. Certainly not all or most of them, and definitely not their toddler. Her comment also suggests that children need siblings to interact with and feel comfortable with their peers – something that science refutes.
I have interviewed hundreds of only children and their parents, and reviewed many studies that examine stereotypes only in children. If anything, many only children are sociable and eager to engage with other children, whether they know them or not, while others may be shy and hesitant to interact with new people. The researcher acknowledged this fact by explaining her son’s playground interactions:
“He went to every child in the playground and tried to engage with them, even with their limited vocabulary. I was amazed! I wouldn’t react like that. “
Your suggestion that children need siblings to connect with other children is old-fashioned. Her son’s temperament was at work even as a toddler. He now has a brother, but he likely would have developed good social skills on his own as his young playground behavior wore off.
Webb’s article focuses on the unique temperaments of children and points out that “it is important to remember that the types of temperaments in children described in these theories (e.g., difficult,” “easy,” “slow.” for warming up ”) are not names in which children can be pigeonholed for life. They are just categories that can be used to describe different combinations of characteristics or behavioral patterns. While there seems to be a genetic basis for temperament, it doesn’t mean that a child is meant to be one way or another. Many other factors play a role. “
I agree: every child is exposed to an endless series of experiences that affect their temperament and how they function in the world. Having or having a sibling is only part of the thousands of parts that contribute to and shape a child’s development.
Amy Webb’s work is spot on, and her information at The Thoughtful Parent is solidly researched and extremely helpful to parents. Could it be that this self-described introvert projected in her email how she would react in a similar situation? Or maybe she slipped into the ancient mythology – read: stereotype – that only children are shy or even lonely and need siblings to improve their skills so that they can play well with others.
How easy it is for anyone to fall into stereotypical thinking and attitudes, even top professionals trained to be careful with stigmatizing comments and innuendos. Repeatedly hearing the only child myths we have had for more than 100 years just reinforces them.
Sam Wang, professor of neuroscience at Princeton University, and Sandra Aamodt, neuroscientist and co-author of Wang of Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College, note “when their message [in this case, only child stereotypes] is initially memorable, its impression will remain long after its exposure. “
Copyright @ 2020 by Susan Newman
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